Rocoto Peppers (Aji Rocoto): A unique pepper with black seeds
For most people, peppers are a “nice-to-have” — but did you know that peppers have been a staple in Andean cuisine for thousands of years?
One of the most unique types of peppers native to the area is the rocoto pepper, also known as “aji rocoto” or “uchu” in Quechua.
Read on to learn more about rocoto peppers and why they are so special.
Facts about Rocoto Peppers
30,000 - 100,000
What is a Rocoto Pepper (Aji Rocoto)?
The rocoto pepper, also known as aji rocoto or uchu, is a hot pepper that has been cultivated in Peru for thousands of years. It belongs to the species Capsicum pubescens and is one of the oldest domesticated chili peppers in the Americas. The pepper is apple or pear-shaped and resembles a miniature bell pepper.
How hot are they?
30,000 – 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Rocoto peppers are considered to be quite hot, with a heat range of 30,000 to 100,000 Scoville units. They are spicier than peppers like jalapeños and other peppers native to the same area of South America, like the aji amarillo, but they are far from some of the hottest peppers in the world like the Carolina Reaper or the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.
Appearance and physical characteristics
Rocoto peppers come in a range of colors, including orange, red, and yellow. The peppers are round like an apple, and the size can vary significantly, from 1-3 inches in diameter (that’s anything from a ping pong ball to a baseball!)
Even more notably, this pepper is known for its furry leaves and black seeds, which are unique to the Capsicum pubescens species. They are similar in appearance to manzano peppers but much spicier in taste.
What makes rocoto peppers unique?
Rocoto peppers are unique for several reasons. They have been cultivated for thousands of years and are among the oldest domesticated chili peppers in the Americas.
Their furry leaves and black seeds are distinguishing features that set them apart from other more common species of peppers like C. annuum and C. chinense.
Because of the unique climate of the Andes, they are also more difficult to grow than most peppers, requiring very specific and milder temperatures. Rather than growing as a small shrubs, aji rocoto plants can grow into huge grape-like vines, up to 15 feet long, that can be trellised.
What do aji rocoto peppers taste like?
Rocoto peppers have a very distinct and flavorful taste that is fruity, crisp, and light. The flavor of the pepper is different from other popular Peruvian peppers, such as aji amarillo or aji panca, as rocoto peppers are hot and can reach up to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units.
Cooking with rocoto peppers (recipe ideas)
Rocoto peppers are used in a variety of traditional dishes and sauces in South America, including chaufa de quinoa, papas a la huancaina, and rocoto relleno, which is a pepper stuffed with cheese.
They are also used to make crema de rocoto, a spicy aji rocoto sauce that is often paired with roasted chicken and grilled meat. Huacatay hot sauce (essentially Peruvian salsa verde) is also an extremely popular sauce made with green rocoto peppers and can be used to spice up virtually any food.
Rocoto peppers can also be ground into a paste and added to stews, soups, and sauces to give them a spicy kick.
If you want to use rocoto peppers in your cooking but don’t have access to fresh peppers, you can use Goya’s Red Hot Pepper Paste as a substitute. This paste is made from rocoto peppers and can be used to add flavor and heat to many different dishes.
Rocoto pepper seeds and growing information
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If you’re interested in growing rocoto peppers, it’s important to note that they can be more challenging to grow than other types of peppers. Unlike other pepper plants, rocoto peppers don’t do well in very hot climates and prefer cooler temperatures. They also need to be protected from cold nights, so it’s important to keep them in a warm, sheltered spot.
Rocoto pepper plants can grow into large grape-like vines, up to 10 feet long, and can be trellised for support. Make sure you buy your seeds from a trusted seller. Pepper Joe’s has a variety of red rocoto pepper seeds available for purchase, although these are smaller, growing up to only 4 feet tall.