Aji Chombo: The Fiery Panamanian Pepper

Habanero-like heat and flavor…

Scoville heat units (SHU): 150,000 to 350,000
Jalapeño reference point: 18 to 140 times hotter
Products and seeds: Aji chombo on Amazon

While not easy to source in the U.S. or U.K., the aji chombo holds a lot of sway in its native Panama. With its extra-hot heat and fruity flavor, it compares well to its Caribbean cousins, the habanero and scotch bonnet peppers. If you’re looking to make an authentic Panamanian hot sauce with extra kick (or any fiery authentic Panamanian cuisine), the aji chombo is your chili of choice.

How hot are aji chombo peppers?

Hot enough to be more than memorable, that’s for sure! The aji chombo ranges from 150,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units. That puts them on par with habaneros and scotch bonnets, but with a slightly higher heat floor. Compared to our jalapeño reference point, aji chombo are at least 18 times hotter (if comparing the hottest possible jalapeño against the mildest possible aji). But that range all the way up to 140 times hotter, if the hottest aji chombo is compared to the mildest possible jalapeño.

What do these chilies look like? Do they look like habaneros?

Like its heat, the aji chombo’s look also comps well against its spicy cousins. They are one to two inches long and pod-like like a habanero. They can sometimes appear more elongated than a habanero or even squashed, like the tam-o-shanter look of the scotch bonnet. The aji chombo typically has three to four creases in its skin, too. Because of the similarities, its easy to confuse this chili with either the habanero or scotch bonnet.

In terms of maturation, the aji chombo ages from typical chili pepper green to a golden yellow-orange and finally a rich red.

What do aji chombo taste like?

Do you like fruity sweet with a ton of fiery heat? Then this is a pepper you’re going to remember with a big smile on your face. It’s fruitiness fits right in with the habanero, in fact, so obviously in terms of heat and flavor, the habanero can make a good substitute for when recipes call for this much harder to source chili.

How can you use these chilies?

If you’re interested in crafting authentic Panamanian cuisine, you’ll want to keep aji chombo on your radar. It’s a staple for fiery meals there, and many popular Panamanian hot sauces use this chili as its base. In fact, those sauces are sometimes simply referred to as aji chombo. Beyond regional cuisine use, you can effectively use aji chombo anywhere where you’d use a scotch bonnet or habanero pepper. The flavor and heat profiles are similar enough, so try this chili in Caribbean meals, tropical salsas or hot sauces, just to name a few.

Where can you buy aji chombo?

Outside of Panama and Central America, this chili pepper can be a real challenge to find. Your best bet is calling around to local chili growers and farmers markets to see if any are growing this Panamanian firecracker. Or, you can buy aji chombo seeds and try your hand at growing them yourself. For cooking, remember the much easier to source habanero works well, so consider the need. If its authentic Panamanian heat you’re after for an authentic Panamanian meal, its worth the effort to find a source.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.
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