The History Of Chillies in Peru
Before spreading itself around the world, the origin of the Chilli goes way back to the Amazon basin in South America. Studies have hypothesised that the Capsicum genus, the broad biological classification of Chillies, originated in an area in upper Peru that is now Bolivia. It then spread, through the dispersal arms of nature, to areas throughout South America and to the West Indies (where Christopher Columbus first encountered it and took its journey to Europe).
Evidence from archaeological excavations in Huaca Prieta and Punta Grande (on the coast of Peru) indicates that inhabitants cultivated Chillies in the area dating way back to 2500BC. While this evidence was carbon-dated to arrive at a scientific conclusion, there was also the discovery of evidence to the presence of cultivated Chillies in a cave in Guitarrero (in the Yungay province of Peru), which dates from 8000 years ago.
From the above, it becomes clear that Peru has provided an essential part of Chillies' place in the world today. As a country that first used them as a spice and where Chilies are now used to make exceptional cuisine, it certainly rates as a country where the Chilli is held in high esteem
How Chillies are used in Peruvian cooking
Peruvian cuisine has evolved from the original Inca cuisine that has been adapted and refined through European, Asian and African influences to provide exceptional flavour and depth. When combining the above with the distinctive taste of Peruvian Chillies – some of which are unique to Peru – the results are in the highest order of cuisine.
For the most part, Peruvian Chillies are not exceptionally hot (although there are exceptions to this rule). They are used to provide colour and flavour to food, notfor pungency alone. Peruvian classics like Parihuela (Peruvian seafood soup), Cebiche Peruano (fresh seafood marinated in lime juice and chillies), Pollo ala Brasa (grilled chicken) and Lomo Saltado (Peruvian steak with chips) all use Chillies of varying heats to achieve different results.
Japanese settlers' influence on Peruvian cuisine has led to a rich Umami taste in many of its dishes. By combining Umami rich ingredients like garlic and onion and seafood with chillies, they created wonderful dishes in a world of their own. Examples of dishes that portray this excellent taste include Tiradito (similar to Ceviche, but more subtle) and Cau Cau (Peruvian tripe stew with potatoes and Chillies)
More recipes for Peruvian cooking with chillis can be found here.
The taste of chillies from Peru is so unique that Peruvian chefs sometimes find it difficult to replicate dishes that they make back home without Peruvian Chillies. For the very reason that they are not easy to be found in many countries outside of Peru, the list below provides the name of the Peruvian Chilli and what it can be substituted for:
Aji Amarillo. A staple in Peruvian cooking. This orange / yellow looking Chilli is about 30000 to 50000 SHU on the Scoville scale. If fresh cannot be found use Serranos and orange bell pepper (for colour). Otherwise, use a paste which can usually found quite easily online. Used in Aji de Gallina (Peruvian Chilli chicken), Causa Rellena (layered potato dish) and Pollo ala Brasa (grilled chicken). It also makes a delicious hot sauce.
Aji Limo (Lemon drop) Has a distinct citrus flavour and is yellow in colour (it can also be found in green, orange and purple). It has a Scoville rating of 30000 to 50000 SHU. Substitute with Cayenne Chilli and Hungarian hot wax (for colour) with a squeeze of lemon juice. Used in Cebiche /Ceviche (seafood marinated in lime/ lemon juice) and Tiradito (sushi/ carpaccio Peruvian style)
Aji Rocoto. Resembles a small bell pepper but when sliced open looks like a tomato with black pips. Can be red, orange or yellow. It is a hot chilli with a Scoville rating of 50000 to 100000 SHU. Best substituted by Scotch Bonnets. Used in Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers), Ceviche de Rocoto (seafood marinated in citrus juice with chillies)
Aji Panca. Has a fruity flavour with a mild smoky flavour. Initially, a green/orange colour that matures into a burgundy hue. It mostly found in a dried pod format. It is not hot at all and used mainly for colour and flavour. Substitute with Kashmiri Chillies. Used in Anticuchos de Carne (Peruvian meat skewers) and Pollo ala Brasa (Peruvian grilled chicken)