Ají charapita is a variety of chili pepper (it belongs to the Capsicum genus) found especially in the north of the Peruvian forest and is one of the five varieties that are grown in the country.
It originates from the cities of Iquitos and Pucallpa and now grows especially in the Departamentos of Ucayali, Loreto and Madre de Dios.
The plant grows preferably in areas with a hot climate, high humidity and soils with a high quantity of organic matter. In ideal conditions, it can reach a height of one meter and develop a rich foliage with oval shaped, light green leaves. Seeds are sown in winter, while the fruits are harvested in summer.
The plant begins to bear fruits after 60-120 days since the transplant and can continue to produce them for up to two months, depending on the area and climate. It is productive for six years, although the amount of fruits drops over the years.
The ají charapita pepper has a very peculiar aspect: it is small and rounded (it looks like a small yellow pea) and it is usually yellow, although it can also be green or yellow, depending on the ecotype.
This Capsicum stands out for the high content of capsaicin, which makes it decidedly hot: it is considered one of the hottest chilies in Peru.
It has a fundamental role in Amazonian cooking, particularly in the province of Coronell Portillo, as it is the basic ingredient of many traditional dishes.
Despite its importance in the local cuisine, it is not very well known and used in the rest of Peru, also because it is difficult to find.
Ají charapita is used fresh, fermented, dried and preserved under oil or vinegar. Some of the typical dishes where it is used are aji de cocona (made with cocona, aji, red onions and sachaculantro, a type of Amazonian coriander); patarascha (freshwater fish seasoned with herbs, ajies and aromas, wrapped in a banana or bijao leaf and cooked on embers) and juane (chicken, rice, hen meat, ajies and aromas wrapped in a bijao leaf and cooked in boiling water).