If you’re a chili pepper lover, you may have heard of the ají charapita, a tiny Peruvian pepper that is highly regarded for its flavor and heat. But it’s rumored to be more than just a tiny but mighty pepper: some people have suggested it’s the most expensive pepper in the world.
In this article, we’ll explore the origins, characteristics, and uses of the ají charapita, plus we’ll chat about the myths and truths behind this fancy pepper.
Facts about Ají Charapitas
30,000 – 50,000
What are ají charapita Peppers?
Ají charapita peppers are a popular chili type with a long history and cultural significance in Peru. It is native to the Amazon rainforest regions of Loreto and Ucayli. This plant bears a small, yellowish-orange pepper that is about the size of a pea. Despite its small size, it packs a powerful punch in terms of heat, coming in at around 50,000 SHUs on the Scoville Scale.
Characteristics of ají charapita Peppers
Ají charapita peppers are tropical plants that thrive in warm, humid weather. They are compact and bushy, producing hundreds of peppers in a single season. The tiny pods are abundant, making the aji charapita a perfect option for container gardening. In warm enough climates, the plants can be overwintered and will produce for years on end.
When it comes to flavor, ají charapita peppers have a fruity and floral taste with hints of citrus, making them some of the most delicious peppers you can grow. Fresh, the taste almost resembles a habanero but with significantly less heat. The seeds are small enough that you can eat the pepper whole without the seeds detracting from the texture. When dried, ají charapitas become the perfect seasoning, adding a fruity, flowery flavor to any dish.
Are ají charapita the most expensive peppers in the world?
I’m not sure why, but there are rumors swirling around the web that people have paid up to $25,000 or $35,000 per kilo for dried ají charapita peppers. The oldest reference I can find is on Oddity Central in an article published in 2016. The article is obviously unreliable, quoting different prices within the same article, citing zero sources, and misspelling basic words like [sic] “Scolville”.
Despite Redditers debunking this myth years ago, it inexplicably seems like people all around the web latched onto this number. Seed companies, including Baker Creek and stark bros, have cited this number, and a blog published by the University of Florida mistakingly claims it is the most expensive pepper in the world.
How much do ají charapita actually cost?
If you’re shopping for aji charapita online, there are a couple of different options. Magic Plant Farms sells them for $120 per kilo, or you can get a much smaller 2oz from Charapita Farms for $29.50. To be clear, that’s still extremely expensive compared to peppers that are more common in the US, like dried jalapeños or cayenne. However, $120 per kilo (2.2lbs) is a far cry from $25,000, and if you’re shopping in person in Peruvian produce markets, you’re likely to find the fresh peppers abundantly for just a few dollars.
Can you make money growing and selling ají charapita peppers?
While you’re not going to become a millionaire overnight by selling ají charapita peppers, they still do come at quite a premium price in the US so it’s possible to make money growing and selling them. You can try drying them and selling them online or grow them to sell fresh at your local farmer’s market.
However, depending on where you live, growing and selling food products may require complicated or expensive permitting, so it’s probably more complicated than it’s worth for backyard gardeners.
How hot are they?
30,000 – 50,000 Scoville Heat Units
Despite their small size, Ají Charapita peppers pack a punch, with a heat level ranging up to 50,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale. This is significantly hotter than jalapeños (up to 20x) and on par with cayenne peppers.
What do they taste like?
Ají charapita peppers have a fruity, floral flavor similar to habanero peppers but with less heat. The tiny pods are perfect for adding flavor and heat to home-cooked meals, and their small size makes them easy to add to dishes without overpowering the other ingredients.
Common culinary uses for ají charapita peppers
Ají charapita peppers are often used as a finishing spice, added to meals immediately before serving. In Peru, the fresh crushed peppers are added to dishes like soups, meat, and rice. Dried ají charapitas are perfect for seasoning and can be added to soups, chili, and homemade spice blends or meat rubs. The versatility of ají charapita peppers is endless, making them a favorite among chefs and home cooks alike.
How to grow ají charapita peppers at home
Whether you plan on selling them or just enjoying them for yourself, growing ají charapita peppers at home can be a rewarding experience. The plants are compact and bushy, producing hundreds of peppers in a single season. They can be grown in pots, making them perfect for small spaces and indoor gardening.
Keep in mind the environment they originated from: they grow well in warm, humid weather. The plants can be overwintered if your climate is sufficiently warm, producing peppers year after year when kept away from freezing temperatures. Make sure your soil is nutrient-dense and fertilize regularly: it was found that insufficient iron, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and copper causes growth deficiencies in ají charapita peppers (Yalta & Isabel, 2013).
You’re probably not going to make your fortune slinging ají charapita peppers, but I encourage you to scout some down and give them a try!