Rocoto Chile Flakes
Rocoto Pepper Flakes
The Rocoto (ro-CO-to) Pepper, Capsicum pubescens, is native to the mountains of Peru. It is also called the rocote pepper, horse pepper, and locoto (or loco) pepper. Its name comes from ruqutu luqutu, which is what it’s called in the indigenous Peruvian language of Quechua.
What Are Rocoto Pepper Flakes?
Rocoto Peppers are small, thick-walled peppers that look a little like a dwarf bell pepper, but for their fierce heat. They are roughly two inches across, and perhaps a little smaller, and not that much longer from stem to apex. These peppers are smooth and plump, surprisingly fleshy and hefty. When ground, the flakes retain an element of juiciness that isn’t necessarily found in other chile pepper flakes. Home gardeners tend to eat them fresh because their thick flesh is difficult to dry without commercial equipment. They have distinctive black seeds which are a signature characteristic of the C. pubescens family; the seeds are entirely edible, though, and only look dark and imposing. Fresh Rocoto Peppers can be stuffed with meat or cheese, or sliced and sautéed for things like fajitas. When the Rocoto’s flesh and seeds are dried and crushed, they are a great way to add vibrant heat to any meal.
The History of the Peruvian Rocoto Pepper
Rocoto Peppers are one of the first domesticated peppers in the chile timeline, with a history of cultivation that goes back at least 5,000 years. Chile peppers originated somewhere in the Andes Mountains approximately 9,000 years ago; the first peppers that were eaten appear to have been smaller and more round, like spicy little blueberries. Birds, who lack the sensory receptors that would allow them to feel capsaicin, ate these proto-peppers. The Peruvian coastline has prolific amounts of gulls and seabirds who fly tremendous distances inland; they were noted to routinely travel between Arequipa, the home of the Rocoto Pepper, and Cusco, which is a journey of more than 300 miles. These birds helped move the seeds around South America, and peppers are fantastically adaptable. They would change to meet new environmental demands, then be redistributed again and cross-breed with one another quite easily, until they developed into different species of peppers. From this, the Rocoto Pepper emerged.
The use of chiles in this region predates the Incas. Peru has over 300 different known types of chile peppers, and ancient Peruvians have been cultivating and celebrating chile peppers for thousands of years. In 1965, archeologists began excavations on El Paraíso, a Late Preceramic (3500–1800 BC) settlement located on the central coast of Peru, in the Chillón Valley. This was most likely an agricultural outpost, since the number of residences was small and the dominant crop grown there was cotton, which was used to weave fishing nets. Among the domesticated crops in evidence, though, were the remnants of chile peppers, grown to supplement their largely seafood diet. The Mochica (Moche) people, whose civilization flourished in northern Peru from 100 BC to about 900 AD, built pyramids, temples, palaces, fortifications and aqueducts. They were terrific artisans and carvers, making representational art that symbolized what was important to Moche life. Archaeologists examining Moche sites discovered a petroglyph, or rock carving, showing a fish surrounded by chiles.
At the start of the 13th century, the Incan civilization began to take shape, building a home base in modern-day Cusco and emanating outward. Eventually, the Incan Empire would rule over all the cultures living in the Andes, some 12 million people strong, and created lasting works in architecture, textiles, and agriculture. This included, of course, their beloved peppers, which they viewed as holy Brother Chile Pepper, one of the brothers of the exalted Manco Cápac, the first Incan king. For strength and communion with the divine, Incan culinary custom included hot peppers on just about everything they ate. Rocoto, then called chinchi uchu, were “remarkably stronger than the rest”, were found and used only in small quantities, and could help restore eyesight and fend off poisonous creatures.
Rocoto Pepper Cultivation
Rocoto Peppers are a peculiar species of pepper in many, many ways. It’s a member of the Capsicum pubescens family, which is fairly small branch of the pepper family, with only a handful of varietals. The name, C. pubescens, means “the pepper that grows hair”, and that refers to the fine down that develops on the leaves and branches of the plant to help it collect misty morning dew.
This plant is native to higher elevations in the Andes Mountains and is one of the odd peppers that thrives in cooler weather; it will often not even flower at temperatures over 80°F. The plants will not survive a freeze, though, so keep an eye on them when the temperatures start heading south. Flowers on the Rocoto Pepper plant are purple, rather than the white or light yellow of other pepper plants, and this slow-growing plant takes three months post-flowering to produce mature peppers.
Plants are usually 3 feet tall and can produce about 40 peppers per plant. They can live up to 15 years—five times as long as a bell pepper plant—and grow to a height of about 15 feet if left untended. They prefer full sun and slightly acidic soil; they can be planted in partial shade if the weather is generally too hot for them, but the plants won’t be as productive. Rocoto Peppers start off green, and can turn red, yellow, or orange as they ripen. They have distinctive black seeds that make this plant stand out from other members of the pepper family. Rocoto Peppers are hefty, with thick fruit walls, so they are usually eaten fresh unless they are dried with commercial equipment. Even then, they are not dried whole or in strips but rather, as flakes, since larger pieces of pepper retain too much moisture to ensure proper drying.
Rocoto chile peppers have historically been grown in Andes Mountain, a South American range that runs between Chile, Peru, and Argentina. Today, Rocoto Peppers are still grown in the Andes but may also be commercially cultivated in high-elevation regions of Central America and Mexico.
Where is Our Rocoto Pepper from?
What Do Rocoto Pepper Flakes Taste Like?
Rocoto Pepper Flakes have a deep, vegetal aroma, smelling a little bit like tobacco and earth, with an underlying essence of crisp winter apple and a peppery tingle teasing in and out around the top notes. The flavor is at first sweet and even juicy, with hints of woodsy apple and tropical papaya. Enjoy it while you can, though, because it’s not long before the heat kicks in. Rocoto Pepper heat is broad and bold; it takes over the flavor of the pepper with a sweep that wipes the palate clean and lingers long after the pepper is gone.
What is the Difference Between Rocoto Peppers and Manzano Peppers?
Rocoto Peppers and Manzano Peppers are easy to confuse, and there are a lot of websites that use these names interchangeably. They are cousins within the same family that bear an extremely strong resemblance to one another in flesh color, size, and colors of seeds. They are often used in the same manner—to stuff, to make salsa, or sliced for sautéing. However, Manzano Peppers are significantly less spicy than Rocotos. Manzanos register between 12,000-30,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale, while Manzano Peppers register between 30,000-80,000 Scoville Heat Units. Manzano Peppers are comparatively as hot as a Chipotle Morita, while Rocoto Peppers are only slightly less spicy than a Habanero.
How Hot Is a Rocoto Pepper?
Our Rocoto Pepper Flakes measure between 30,000-80,000 units on the Scoville Heat Unit scale.
How Do You Use Rocoto Pepper Flakes?
When fresh, Rocoto Peppers are often served stuffed with meat and cheese and, depending on regional preferences, baked, or battered and fried, for rocotos rellenos. They’re also baked until they’ve reached maximum sweetness and blended with milk and mild cheese for crema de rocoto, a creamy and spicy topping for chicken, fish, vegetables, or potatoes. When they’re dried, you can use Rocoto Pepper Flakes wherever you want a bright burst of heat. Those not faint-of-heart can sprinkle them on pizza or as a final kick over Trinidad Style Curry Chicken. Stir Rocoto Pepper Flakes into a fruity Pineapple Salsa instead of habaneros, or add a surprising burn to a spicy chicken salad mixed with scallions and avocado. Marinate chicken in Rocoto Pepper Flakes and lime juice for a South American riff on Caribbean Fajitas. Make a Spicy Cabbage Slaw to garnish tacos or to put over Quick and Easy Spicy Grilled Shrimp.
Substitutions and Conversions
This pepper has a distinctly fruity flavor profile, so try some Guajillo Peppers with Crushed Red Pepper Flakes if you don’t have Rocoto Flakes on hand. Guajillo Chiles are much more mild but they deliver strong fruit, and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes parallel the low end of the heat pretty closely. Use Crushed Red Pepper Flakes in a 1:1 ratio; if you use 1 teaspoon of Rocoto, then substitute 1 teaspoon of Crushed Red Pepper. Then add approximately 1/4 teaspoon Guajillo and taste test.
|Also Called||Rocote pepper, horse pepper, apple pepper, locoto pepper, or ruqutu|
|Recommended Uses||Use in salsas, stews,|
|Flavor Profile||Vegetal, juicy, and fruity, with a bold and spicy kick|
|Scoville Heat Units||30,000-80,000 SHU|
|Botanical Name||Capsicum pubescens|
|Cuisine||Peruvian, South American|
|How To Store||Airtight container in a cool, dark place|
|Shelf Life||1-2 Years|
|Country of Origin||Peru|
|Dietary Preferences||Gluten Free, Non-GMO|
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Serving Size1 tsp
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value*