Aji Lucento pepper is a Capsicum pubescens. It has black seeds and soft, fuzzy leaves (pubescens is Latin for hairy) and is only known in cultivation, there are no wild varieties known. It will not cross pollinated with other species of peppers.
It is grown primarily in Central and South America in the Andean cloud forests at high elevations. The story of this plant goes back at least 16 years. Our friend Bill was vacationing in Riobamba, Ecuador. He visited the town market and bought 5 different peppers from the Quechua women vendors who had brought their produce down from the moutains. Riobamba is at 9000 feet so the peppers were grown at an even higher elevation. He asked the name of one and heard
Once back in his hotel room, Bill tasted all five and fell in love with the fruity flavor of this red beauty. He scraped out the seeds and wrapped them in tissue to bring back to us. Unfortunately the affair ended in tears as later he rubbed his eyes with the same hand he had seeded the pepper with . . .
Doing a bit of research before this event we found out that there really isn’t any other mention of ‘Aji Lucento’ anywhere. So, the mystery thickens. Now we are thinking that this pepper may be a local cultivar of the more familiar Rocoto pepper sometimes called Luqutu. Rocotos are apple-shaped and their growth habit is more shrubby. The Aji Lucentos we sell are ‘scramblers’. They hook their leaves around other plants or supports and make their way skywards. Ours is over 8 feet tall.
So, whatever the botantical truth is, there is lore, lure and longevity surrounding our favorite perennial shade-loving pepper. Our original plant is 16 years old and flowers and fruits on and off all year long. This summer we harvested 5 lbs of ripe peppers in one picking.
Following is the hot sauce recipe our friend Dave came up with to use all those peppers!
Dave’s Aji Lucento Hot Sauce
Makes about 1½ pints
30 Aji Lucento peppers, remove stems & seeds,
finely chopped or fewer if you want it less hot
¾ cup chopped onion (½ a large onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoon sunflower oil
½ cup chopped carrots (2 medium carrots)
½ cup distilled vinegar
½ cup white wine
¼ cup lemon juice (1 large lemon)
1 tsp salt (optional)
Sauté the onion and garlic in oil until soft; add the carrots with a small amount of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until carrots are soft and strain. Place the mixture and raw peppers into a blender and purée until smooth. Don’t cook the peppers, since cooking reduces flavor of the Aji Lucento. Combine the puree with vinegar, lemon juice, and wine. Add vinegar and wine to thin the puree as needed. Seal in sterilized bottles.
Variation: Substitute 6 or more dried habanero chiles. (6 will be medium hot.) Soak habaneros in warm water for 15 minutes and then remove stem and seeds.