Have you ever wondered what makes Peruvian cuisine so special?
Apart from its unique ingredients, there are multiple aspects of it that are closely knit with gastronomy and local ingredients.
One aspect is the delicious variety of spices that are used in traditional dishes.
And when it comes to declaring the champion among all the spices, the clear winner is the Aji Pepper. Before you ask, the word “aji” is Spanish for chili peppers belonging to the capsicum species.
Take some of the best Peruvian dishes like Parihuela, Aji de Gallina, Causa Rellena, or Carapulcra. Aji Pepper-based sauces compliment each one of these dishes truly- it makes them taste delicious.
But you’re probably wondering, is it really that good?
Keep reading and you’ll find out why.
Few Facts About the Peruvian Aji Peppers
There are quite a few variants of Aji peppers grown in Peru which are used for a wide variety of cuisines. However, the Aji Pepper- based sauce is prepared by using the Aji Amarillo variety.
The term Aji Amarillo stands for yellow pepper. In reality, the color of this pepper turns bright orange from sunshine yellow as it ages.
Aji peppers have been a part of the Peruvian and even Pre-Inca food culture for over 8000 years. They have played an important role in Inca mythology as well.
Also, it’s the most commonly grown Aji pepper along the Peruvian coast. When combined with other ingredients like onions, garlic, and regional herbs, it forms the perfect spicy dip for a variety of dishes.
Note: the Ají mirasol is the dried variant of the Aji Amarillo. When the pepper is dried, oxidation takes place. As a result, the sweet, fruity flavor dominates, making it the perfect ingredient for soups and stews. When the pepper is roasted, the flavor becomes even more intense.
Among other peppers grown in Peru, there’s Rocoto and Aji Panca. The Rocoto is the hottest Aji and can score close to 100,000 on the Scoville Heat scale. On the other hand, Aji Panca is the least spicy pepper and is used mostly in the dried form. With a sweet and smoky flavor, it has a rather low score of around 1000 to 1500 on the Scoville Heat scale.
Three Reasons for Trying the Aji Sauce
1. The Taste Factor
The Aji Amarillo scores between 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville Heat scale. Making these peppers more mild than the Rocoto peppers.
Some food writers have described the flavor of Aji Amarillo to the brightness of “sunshine”, while others have compared it to blueberries. The smell has notes of tropical fruits- unlike the strong aroma of jalapenos.
The moderate heat quotient makes the Aji sauce a great choice for not only chicken but for other proteins and vegetables as well. If you don’t want the peppery heat to overpower other flavours, the Aji sauce is the right ingredient.
Keep in mind, the recipe of the sauce varies between regions. However, two of the common components are cilantro and the huacatay herb.
Want to make it spicier? The trick is to not remove the veins or seeds from the pepper.
2. Its Versatility
The other advantage of Aji sauce is its versatility. It forms a great base for a wide range of dishes. Because its flavor is complementary to a variety of ingredients, many traditional Peruvian recipes have a touch of Aji sauce in them.
From roasted chicken and yuca to french fries and salads, you can add this sauce to almost any dish. It’s also used for ceviche, Peru’s national dish.
You can try the pepper raw- perfect for adding a refreshing touch to a summer salad. A combination of fresh cheese and greens with the crunchy, fruity taste of Aji Amarillo will spice up the dish instantly.
If you’re looking for a side sauce that adds an extra kick to your meals, Aji sauce is the way to go.
3. Multiple Health Benefits
Aji sauce has a wide range of health benefits. You can read more about their nutritional properties on our blog HERE.
Firstly, Aji peppers contain large amounts of capsaicin. Capsaicin helps boost your metabolism and increases energy levels.
Aji sauce also has anti-bacterial, pain-reducing, and anti-diabetic properties. It contains multiple antioxidants and flavonoids like B-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. These components help reduce the LDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
Lastly, Aji Amarillo is also a great source of Vitamin C.
Not only is Aji sauce unique in taste, but it’s also packed with nutrients.
Where to Buy Peruvian Peppers in Toronto
If you're near Kensington Market in Toronto, we suggest visiting our friends at Perolas. Alternatively, you can order your choice of peppers from Amazon.
There’s a reason why Aji peppers are the backbone of Peruvian cuisine. They’re flavourful, versatile and packed with nutrients. If you’re looking to try aji peppers, we use them in our bowls which you can order HERE.