Peruvians have a lot of things that make their food special. However, there is one ingredient that makes Peruvian cuisine different from all others. It’s the aji pepper.
Aji peppers are used to add to and enhance Peruvian flavors in almost all dishes in the South American country. The pepper is a high-growth industry in Peru, with some variations being the most expensive peppers in the world, with the aji charapita chili pepper reportedly selling for $35,000 a kilo.
The aji pepper goes back some 8,000 years in Peru. It was first grown in the upper part of the country around the Lake Titicaca area and surrounding areas now a part of Bolivia. The oldest evidence of the pepper was found in a cave! Paleobotanists claim natives were cropping the pepper as far back as 400 B.C.
Another interesting fact is the aji pepper is actually a fruit. It is part of genus Capsicum. There are up to 50,000 varieties of peppers in the world today, but the South American variety make up the Capsicum baccatum type of the group.
Cooks and chefs in South America use around 50 varieties of the pepper in Peruvian food and there are six basic types of aji peppers used in most dishes. These come in as many flavors and amounts of heat as in varieties. Two of the hottest is the aji amarillo, or yellow pepper, and the rocoto, which resembles a bell pepper. Even though most equate aji peppers with heat, some are smokey and others are sweet. Some are even used in Peruvian desserts, combining them with fruits like pineapple.
You can enjoy the variety of aji peppers in authentic Peruvian cuisine as a guest of La Costanera Restaurant. This Peruvian restaurant is located near San Francisco and offers both traditional and fusion cuisine from native Peruvian Chef Carlos Altamirano. Whether you want to kick up your meal with a hot aji amarillo or sweeten the flavors with its dried version of aji mirasol, there are an array of options for your dinner plate.