Aji Panca Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are aji panca peppers?

In Peruvian cuisine, the aji panca (a.k.a. aji brown) is only second in popularity to its golden bright cousin, the aji amarillo. But that’s in no way a comment on its flavor. In fact, the aji panca is just as flavorful and complex, but in totally different ways. Where the aji amarillo tastes sunny and tropical, the aji panca is smoky with a berry-like fruitiness. And it’s incredibly mild (1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units), making it very family-friendly. It’s a chili that’s superb in soups and sauces; as a season for salads, seafood, and rice dishes; and even – due to its sweetness – as a topper for fruits and desserts.

aji panca substitute

Aji panca fast facts

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 1,000 – 1,500 SHU
  • Median heat: 1,250 SHU
  • Origin: Peru
  • Capsicum species: Baccatum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: 2 to 8 times milder
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Approximately 3 to 5 inches long, dried
  • Flavor: Sweet, Fruity, Smoky

How hot is aji panca?

It’s no more than a mild simmer. Its heat range is 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units (SHU), which is the same range as the very mild poblano pepper. Compared to our jalapeño reference point that’s two to eight times milder.  But let’s also compare it to its Peruvian cousin, the aji amarillo. It ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, which places the aji panca a whopping 20 to 50 times milder. Don’t let their relation full you – they live in two separate worlds of the pepper scale.

What does this Peruvian chili look like?

The fresh chilies grow to three to five inches in length and mature from green to a deep dark red. But aji panca is not typically sold in fresh form. It’s typically found dried or in powder or paste form. When dried, the chili takes an earthy dark brown hue.

What does aji panca taste like and how do you use it?

It’s so different than most chilies you’re going to find at this mild heat level. There’s a lot of fruitiness, but not like the tropical flavors you find in the much hotter scotch bonnet or habanero peppers. It’s a more berry-like sweetness. There’s also a smokiness layered atop of this sweetness that’s very unique for this mild heat. In fact, the smoky flavor is quite like that of the medium-heat chipotle pepper. It’s really a terrific foil to the spicy and sunny taste of the aji amarillo in Peruvian cooking.

Many Peruvian recipes call for aji panca, from sauces and soups to seafood and rice dishes. But truly this chili can have a very active life among your spices with its unique flavor and mild heat. It’s an excellent spice to add a little zest to salads and fruits, and its sweetness makes the aji panca a terrific option for spicing up your fruit and chocolate-based desserts.

Where can you buy aji panca?

You’re likely not going to find this chili in fresh form; it’s typically sold dried, as aji panca paste, or in powder form. For those, unless you have Peruvian specialty grocers nearby, your best option is to shop online. There you’ll find dried aji panca, paste, and powders too – all widely available (Amazon).

If you’re exploring Peruvian cuisine, you’ll no doubt pick up this chili. But even if you aren’t, the flavors of this chili are so unique that it’s well worth experimenting with it in the kitchen. It can really add life to your food with just a simple sprinkle.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on October 5, 2021 to include new content.
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I agree with this review. In my opinion the panca pepper isn’t very hot in the mouth. I eat many hot peppers with little to no reaction in my digestive tract but the panca pepper gives me diarrhea the NEXT day, all day. Beware!! It’s a slow moving evil demon pepper. Even scotch bonnet, Chile de árbol, serranos, Chile puquin, and jalepeños do not do to me what panca does.