Aji Lucento pepper history + recipes

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
‘Aji Lucento’.

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.

Maureen’s Sriracha

Here’s how to make homemade Sriracha out of Aji Lucento peppers. It is very spicy and very tasty.

1. Pick and wash about 40 peppers, Blend them in a food processor, seeds and all, along with about 1/2 cup of date palm sugar until smooth. Note you can also use light brown sugar or just plain old white sugar. Here is also where you can add fish sauce. I did not since I am a vegetarian. Pour into a glass vessel and loosely cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Leave on counter (out of the sun) for 3 to 4 days so to lightly ferment. Keep an

2. After 3 or 4 days, make sure no white mold has formed on the surface. If it has, pick off carefully and discard. Pour the entire contents into a nonporous, non-reactive pan (stainless is best). Add 1/2 a cup of white vinegar or (1/4 cup of white and 1/4 cup of Apple Cider) and bring contents to a boil for 3 to 5 minutes. You might want to adjust with a little salt and a little more sugar at this point as well. Taste a tiny amount and decided how you like it. Note: do this with fans on and windows open as well protective gloves and maybe even glasses.

3. Blend into a smooth paste with an immersion blender and then pour the entire contents through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer. The goal is to trap most of the seeds in the sieve. At this point add some xantham gum (don’t worry it’s extracted from seaweed). I used 2 teaspoons. Mix using the immersion blender. It creates that lovely smooth texture you get with commercial Sriracha.

4. Put into 4 oz jars and can in a water bath following standard USDA timing and instructions. 30 minutes is the rec. Enjoy! You only need a little. The heat goes a long way.