Aji Dulce: Heat, Flavor, Uses

Habanero looks, yet very little fire…

Scoville heat units (SHU): 0 to 1,000
Jalapeño reference point: 3 to 8,000 times milder
Origin: Caribbean
Products and seeds: Aji dulce on Amazon

Do you love the fruity sweet flavor of habanero peppers, yet can do without the fire of the infamous extra-hot chili? Meet the aji dulce, also known as ajicito or aji cachucha. This habanero look-alike packs a sweet and smoky taste with very little (if any) perceptible heat. It’s perfect for mild salsas, sauces, and a must for Caribbean cooking, especially Cuban and Venezuelan cuisine.

How hot are aji dulce peppers?

For most aji dulce, you won’t notice the heat at all. These chilies are closer to sweet peppers, many carrying zero heat and typically no more than 1,000 Scoville heat units – putting it on par with poblano pepper heat. In terms of our jalapeño reference point, that’s at least three times milder than the mildest jalapeño with the chance to be “no contest” when the fire is turned to zero.

Though there is a twist. Some chilies sold as “aji dulce” have been known to pack a much greater punch. This is mainly due to cross-pollination of the pepper with the much hotter habanero, which easily can occur if the chilies are grown near each other. The looks – since these two peppers look much alike – will still be the same for this hybrid, simply the heat will be surprising. Not habanero heat, but often hotter than a jalapeño.

What do these chilies look like?

Aji dulce are habanero doppelgängers. They have a slightly rounded shape, sometimes wrinkled and bonnet-like, only an inch or two across. They mature from a typical chili green to shades of yellow and red, sweetening along the way.

What do aji dulce taste like?

Frankly, they smell almost as good as they taste. This is a delicious chili that everyone in the family can enjoy. There’s a sweet, fruity fragrance – like a habanero or scotch bonnet – and the flavor follows suit. It’s sweet with hints of smoke and a little black peppery undertone. These are flavorful mild chilies with a sweetness that’s typically hard to find at the lower end of the pepper scale.

How can you use these chilies?

If you love the flavor of habanero salsas and hot sauces, but can’t keep up with the heat, this is a perfect habanero substitute. Aji dulce, like the Trinidad perfume, have a perfect mild fruitiness to work very well in this use case. Many authentic Cuban, Venezuelan, and other Caribbean recipes also call for aji dulce in their ingredient lists. If you want to truly experience authentic meals of the region, you’ll want to get to know this pepper.

Where can you buy aji dulce?

Like many regional chilies, aji dulce can be very hard to source. Your best bet is checking in with chili-growing friends, calling around to local farmer’s markets, or simply growing them yourself. You can easily buy aji dulce seeds online if you want a lasting supply of these delicious sweet chilies at the ready.

If you want to explore authentic Caribbean cuisine, it’s worth the effort to source out aji dulce. They are very tasty, with all the sweetness of those fruit extra-hots without the fire. You’ll find many uses for this chili gem if you prefer milder tastes.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 15, 2022 to include new content.
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