There are flavors you only have to try once to fall in love with them. Some people deeply enjoy sweets and desserts, others have strong salty cravings and some other like to go from place to place trying all kinds of spicy dishes. For those who want to experience the most exotic types of chilli and pepper, there’s one that stands out from the crowd. We’re talking about the ají panca.
This strong, juicy and delicious pepper is the perfect companion for some of the most recognized Peruvian recipes, adding its flavor and texture to the mix. If you want to know where this mesmerizing ingredient comes from and how to use it in the kitchen keep reading.
Where does ají panca come from?
Ají panca (also known as the Peruvian red pepper), is a special variety of chilli pepper called Capsicum Baccatum, but it’s also associated with the Capsicum Chinese kind. Ají panca is a pepper mainly grown in the coastal and warm areas of Peru, although it can be grown in any humid and fertile ground at sea level, with warm temperatures and great sun exposure. Even though it’s quite simple to grow ají panca in many places, this is a pepper most known around Peru as it is the key ingredient for many Peruvian recipes. Maybe the peppers are not usually grown outside Peru, but nowadays it’s quite simple to get ají panca in its most popular presentations.
Characteristics of this ají
The ají panca has some very peculiar characteristics that make them taste the way they do. This kind of pepper measures 3 to 5 inches long (including the stem) by 1 to 1 ½ inches at their widest point. They are a green orange-ish color but when they are ripe they turn a deep red or brownish color. Like other big peppers, the ají panca has thick flesh and plenty of seeds inside. This chili actually looks a lot like some other peppers from the same family, like the pasilla peppers (also known as the chilaca before being dried out), ancho pepper, (known as poblano before dry) or even the chipotle pepper.
Flavor of ají panca
Ají panca is ranking at 1,000-1,500 in the Scoville scale of spiciness, which means that this pepper has a relatively mild spice. Despite its name, ají panca is much less strong and spicy than all the other kinds of ajíes, like the ají amarillo or the Peruvian ajíes. In fact, ají panca actually has a sweet tinge similar that reminds us of berries, and it contains smoky undertones which make it ideal to cook with beef and other types of meat. Ají panca is the perfect pepper to dry out and grind to use in its powder form. Making a panca paste might be lots of work, thankfully you can find ají panca powder or paste.
Most popular dishes made with ají panca
Ají panca takes part in one of the most popular Peruvian dishes known worldwide, the anticuchos. Anticuchos are beef or chicken pieces, marinated with garlic, vinegar, pepper, ají panca, achiote and salt; all placed on wooden sticks to grill. Anticuchos are the most sold street food around Peru. If you want to learn the full recipe for anticuchos click here.
And even though ají panca has a very mild spice, it is said that removing the seeds and veins reduces the spice even more; leaving only a smoky and berry-like taste. This makes this pepper perfect for dishes such as chupes, adobo, escabeches, carapulcra, pachamanca, parihuela and chanfainita.
This might not be the spiciest pepper in the world, but if there’s one thing we know for sure is that ají panca will make any recipe taste ten times better. Whether you boil it, seed it and chop it, mince it to make it a paste or dry it out to make it a strong powder, this kind of ají has the ability to turn any ordinary meal into a real gastronomic experience.
It’s no secret why Peruvians love to make dishes with ají panca, so if you want to give it a try to check out our recipes, get a bag of ají panca paste and put your cooking skills to test. We assure you it will be the best meal of your life!