Andean Cuisine: Rocoto, the Amazing Andean Hot Pepper
9 January 2020
Just the mention of its name, rocoto, makes Peruvian’s mouths water. At many restaurants, as the food arrives the usual question (endearingly) is, “tiene rocotito?”. It spices up dishes such as soups, meats, and potatoes, and is just hot enough and very tasty.
A must in peruvian cuisine
For Peruvians, as well as for most Andean people, hot peppers are a passion. And we consider rocoto (Capsicum pubescens) to be the queen of hot peppers. Rocoto originated in Peru. Evidence of rocoto use by ancient Andeans has been found in archeological tombs, showing that it was being consumed over 2,000 years ago.
Today, rocoto is widely eaten across Peru, but it’s also highly prized and consumed in Ecuador, Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Rocotos are larger than many peppers; they’re about the size and shape of small red bell peppers.
They’re usually a deep red color when fully ripened, more orange or yellow when less ripe. Its cultivation has spread as far as Mexico, where it’s known as manzano pepper, for its apple-like shape.
¿How spicy is the peruvian rocoto?
Not everyone can tolerate eating spicy peppers (including some Peruvians), but for those who can and who just love them (count me in!), they make many dishes so much more satisfying. Rocoto is relatively hot- between 100,000 and 200,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) on the Scoville scale.
But hot pepper spiciness depends on its preparation- when rocoto’s seeds and inner “veins” are removed (as its often prepared, in a salsa with onions and lime juice), it’s much less spicy, tolerable for most palates, but still so tasty.
Flavors of rocoto in peruvian food
Andean peppers are especially flavorful. This author lived in the U.S. for years where I often ate jalapeños, serranos, especially tasty chipotles, and many other chilies, and yes, they’re all good. But I most definitely prefer the deeper, more complex flavors of Peru’s rocoto, and of our orange-colored ají amarillo and reddish ají panca (ají is the usual Andean term for chili peppers).
Not all Peruvian food is spicy, and many of our dishes are mild and delicious. But adding a bit of rocoto to our keystone national dishes- seafood ceviche, or lomo saltado (stir-fried beef with French fries, tomatoes and onions) is simply culinary excellence.
Rocoto in andean cuisine
Another wonder of Andean food is rocoto relleno, an oven-baked rocoto, stuffed with juicy ground beef, onions, carrots, peas, and topped with whipped egg and cheese. It’s usually served as a side dish or as an appetizer. It’s hard to describe the perfection of rocoto relleno, you just have to try it!
Cusco is a great place to taste all kinds of wonderful Andean food. A wide range of top-quality eateries can be found that serve diverse Andean native dishes and bistro-style Andean Fusion cuisine. And you can also find Andean food for very reasonable prices at countless small, home-style restaurants, and at food stands in Cusco’s fascinating San Pedro native market.
There’s so much good food to taste in Peru! Considered by many food critics to be Latin America’s foodie paradise, a wealth of culinary styles and dishes can be found in every region.
So, if your taste buds are intrigued and your mouth is beginning to water, well, it might be a perfect time to plan your journey to amazing Peru. And Cusco, with its rich ancient culture, is the perfect destination.
Please contact us at andeanlodges.com. We can help you plan your Andean culinary exploration, as well as the very best mountain trekking adventure you’ll experience in the Andes.