a white bowl of dried malagueta peppers

Malagueta Peppers: A Fiery Brazilian Favorite

Malagueta peppers are small and fiery chili peppers native to Brazil, known for their intense heat and complex flavor profile. They have been a staple ingredient in Brazilian cuisine for centuries and are used in various dishes.

Facts about
Malagueta Pepper

Heat level:
60,000 - 100,000
Capsicum frutescens
South America

What are malagueta peppers?

Malagueta peppers are small, tapered chili peppers originating from Brazil, where they are used extensively in traditional cuisine. They are a variety of Capsicum frutescens species, which also include African devil and tabasco peppers. Malagueta peppers are sweet and tangy in flavor.

Where are they from?

Malagueta peppers are native to Brazil and are a staple ingredient in traditional Brazilian and Portuguese cooking. They are particularly popular in Brazil’s Bahia state, where the wild version, malagueta-caipira, grows. During the colonization of Brazil, the Portuguese brought this pepper back to Portugal, where its popularity spread throughout the lands it colonized, also including Mozambique.

Why are they called “malagueta”?

Malagueta peppers are said to have gotten their name from a West African spice called melegueta, known in English as grains-of-paradise. Because the terms are so similar and both refer to a spice, there has been some confusion over the years, and they are occasionally mislabeled. However, melegueta is part of the ginger family and is entirely unrelated to chili peppers.

In Mozambique and Portugal, the smaller version of the malagueta pepper is sometimes called piri-piri or malaguetinha. Larger peppers are referred to as malaguetão

Malagueta vs. piri piri peppers

There is some confusion about the relationship between malagueta peppers and piri piri, a term used throughout Portugal and Africa. 

Piri piri, in Swahili, means pepper pepper and can refer to any chili pepper. It is also a common name for the African devil pepper. The African devil pepper is thought to be derived from the malagueta, though they are not precisely the same. 

In Portugal, piri piri refers to small hot peppers, including peppers like malagueta. So, it seems that this is a case of “is a rectangle a square” — “piri piri” might sometimes be used to refer to malagueta peppers, but it is a nonspecific term that could also refer to any other number of chilis.

How hot are they? (Scoville rating)

Malagueta peppers range from 60,000 – 100,000 SHU, putting them at a similar heat level to Thai chilis and about twice as hot as cayenne peppers. If you’re an avid spicy food lover, this won’t knock your socks off; however, it may be too hot for some people with lower spice tolerances. 

What do malagueta peppers taste like?

Malagueta peppers have a unique flavor profile that includes sweet and tangy notes, with some people describing them as having a bitter or citrusy taste. The peppers have a sharp, spicy kick that adds heat to any dish. They are commonly pickled in vinegar to create a condiment that is both bright and tangy with a spicy finish.

Culinary uses

The Malagueta pepper, a small and fiery chili, is a staple ingredient in Brazilian cuisine. They are commonly used in soups and stews to add heat and flavor. In addition, Malagueta peppers are also a common ingredient in regional dishes in Mozambique and Portugal. The pepper is commonly used in chicken and poultry dishes in Portugal, such as piri piri chicken.

Apart from being used as a spice, Malagueta peppers are also popular in hot sauces and salsas, providing an intense and complex flavor to these condiments. The Malagueta pepper is a versatile ingredient that can add a bold kick to various dishes.

Where can you buy malagueta peppers?

Malagueta peppers are popular in Brazil, Portugal, and other countries. If you want to find these peppers, markets in these countries may be a good place to start. However, if you are in the United States, you are unlikely to find them in local markets unless you live in an area with large Brazilian or Portuguese immigrant communities.

Fortunately, you can purchase them online in pickled form or hot sauces. Alternatively, if you are interested in growing these peppers, specialty sellers online offer malagueta pepper seeds for purchase.