Criolla Sella Chiles
Criolla Sella (Spanish pronunciation: cree-YO-yo SEH-ya) chiles, Capsicum baccatum, are indigenous peppers that come from the Andes Mountains in Bolivia. They are also known as Aji Criolla Sella.
There are typically 8 Criolla Sella chiles per ounce.
What Are Criolla Sella Chiles?
Criolla Sella chiles are small, somewhat spicy peppers that originated in the western part of Bolivia, in the Andes Mountains. These slender chiles are between three and four inches long and about a half an inch wide at the shoulder, tapering down to a narrow end point. When they’re fresh they are bright orange, but the color deepens as they dry into a rich, dark amber. Their flesh is thin and pliable, so they’re perfect for drying and rehydrating as needed. They have an extraordinary, mango-like fruitiness and medium-to-hot pepper heat.
The History of the Bolivian Criolla Sella Chile
The first wild chile peppers emerged about 9,000 years ago in the South America, somewhere around the intersection of modern-day Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil1. These proto-chiles were small and round, little berries that came with an oversized bite, and were dispersed through South America and beyond thanks to the organic migratory movements of birds2. Capsicum baccatum, the species of pepper that includes the Criolla Sella, is a product of the Madeira River basin, a multinational region that crosses Brazil and Bolivia3.
The Criolla Sella Chile has roots that reach back to the Incan civilization that once dominated the Andean culture, but it has a name that reflects the colonization of that region. In the 16th century the Spanish came to South America and claimed most of it for Spain. They installed their governors to oversee their colonies and a western-oriented system of social hierarchy that caused impacts in Bolivia that are still visible today. To exert their position as the presiding culture they began the process of mestizaje, which superimposed Spanish values over those held by the indigenous people, and incorporated indigenous products into the culture and lives of the Spanish colonizers4.
Creoles—or Criollos—were Spanish nationals who were born in South America, and with the 19th century overthrow of Spanish hegemony and the establishment of independent countries, like Bolivia, Criollos became the ruling elite. People started to attach the adjective criollo, or criolla, depending on what word it’s used to modify, to foods and other products to denote excellence and quality. This is still in practice today, and gives products a wash of Western-ness that set it apart from the campesino foods that are grown by peasant farmers5. Criolla Sella translates as “Creole Seal”, as in a government or official seal. This chile pepper, despite its rustic origins, has been clearly marked as excellent and has even been given a mestizaje title that conveys its importance to all members of Bolivian society.
Criolla Sella Chile Cultivation
Criolla Sella plants usually grow between 18-24 inches tall. They are prolific; a single plant will usually give off at least 30 peppers in a growing season though it usually will grow more. These plants emerged from Bolivia’s Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests, so the plants are hearty and can withstand fluctuations in rainfall. They thrive in slightly acidic, well-drained or loamy soil and do well in full sunlight, but should be watered if the weather is very hot. Their growing season runs through the summer, and the main harvest should take place near the end of summer.
Seeds should be planted at 1/4” depth and between 18-24 inches apart. They can take a week to a month to germinate depending on the temperature of the soil, and once they’ve germinated they take 70-80 days to reach full maturity. Small white blooms with green stripes on each petal will develop first before giving way the fruit. Immature peppers are green, and change hue to a deep yellow-orange as they ripen. They are about a half an inch wide at the shoulders and 2-3 inches long and cylindrical, tapering to a point at the apex. When harvesting, clip them rather than pulling them, so as to not damage the plant.
Where Are Our Criolla Sella Chiles From
Are Criolla Sella Chiles Hot
Criolla Sella Chiles usually score 20,000-30,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). They are comparable to Chipotle Morita and Chipotle Meco chiles as far as heat goes, though they don't share the smoky quality that these peppers have.
What Does the Criolla Sella Chile Taste Like
The Criolla Sella Chile has a bright, sweet flavor that hearkens to tropical fruits. There are hints of citrus and mango, though there’s a deeper backbone to the flavor of this pepper that’s reminiscent of licorice or molasses. It measures between 20,000-30,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), but the heat comes in toward the end, so you have time to enjoy this pepper’s complexity.
How Do I Use Criolla Sella Chile
Criolla Sella Chiles can be used in a wide variety of ways. Grind it for a traditional Bolivian picante de pollo, a spicy dish that features braised chicken thighs, or rehydrate it and chop it to add to llajwa, a Bolivian salsa that can be found at almost every table. Rehydrated Criolla Sella can be sliced and added to the slaw topping on our Crispy Fish Tacos or soaked in vinegar to spice up Pickled Red Onions. Add extra dimension to Roast Tomato Salsa or use Criolla Sella instead of Guajillo Chiles when making marinated pork. Stir into a homemade aioli with pickles and capers for a spicy, tangy remoulade that’s perfect with a Grilled Red Snapper sandwich.
What Can I Substitute for Criolla Sella Chiles
Because of their fruitiness, Guajillo Chiles are the best flavor substitute, though Guajillos are decidedly less hot. Aji Amarillo Chiles are a bit hotter than Criolla Sella and also have a fruity flavor, though the flavor is not as pronounced.
1 Whole Criolla Sella Chile is equal to 1/2 teaspoon of ground Criolla Sella Chile.
|Ingredients||Criolla Sella Chile|
|Also Called||Aji Criolla Sella, Criolla Sella pepper|
|Recommended Uses||Use in dips, marinades, salsas, bean dishes, as a paste|
|Flavor Profile||Bright fruity flavor with licorice undertones and medium-hot heat|
|Scoville Heat Units||20,000-30,000 SHU|
|Botanical Name||Capsicum baccatum|
|How To Store||Airtight container in a cool, dark place|
|Shelf Life||1-2 Years|
|Country of Origin||Peru|
|Dietary Preferences||Gluten free|
Hungry For More Information?
1. Viano, L. (2016, August 18). Feel the burn-new world chilies traced back nearly 17 million years. Scientific American. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feel-the-burn-new-world-chilies-traced-back-nearly-17-million-years/
2. CPI Editors. (n.d.). The story of chile peppers. New Mexico State University - Chile Pepper Institute. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://cpi.nmsu.edu/chile-info/for-kids-pages/the-story-of-chile-peppers.html
3. Scaldaferro, M. A., Barboza, G. E., & Acosta, M. C. (2018). Evolutionary history of the Chili Pepper Capsicum baccatum L. (Solanaceae): Domestication in South America and natural diversification in the seasonally dry tropical forests. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 124(3), 466–478. https://doi.org/10.1093/biolinnean/bly062
4. Kollnig, S. (2019). The ‘good people’ of Cochabamba City: Ethnicity and race in Bolivian middle-class food culture. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 15(1), 23–43. https://doi.org/10.1080/17442222.2020.1691795
5. Turner, K., Davidson-Hunt, I., Desmarais, A., & Hudson, I. (2016). Creole hens and Ranga-Ranga: Campesino foodways and biocultural resource-based development in the Central Valley of Tarija, Bolivia. Agriculture, 6(3), 41. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture6030041
Serving Size1 chile (~3.5g)
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*