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Cachucha chile peppers have the appearance of a spicy, habanero pepper, but have a sweet flavor and are typically eaten when green. The small peppers ripen from dark green to light green, then to an orange-red when fully ripe, though they are usually harvested at the lighter green stage. They measure around 10 centimeters in width and 5 to 7 centimeters high. Cachuchas have the same spinning top shape and semi-wrinkled skin of a habanero pepper. They have thin walls that have a slightly crunchy texture. Beneath the thin, woody stem lies a small placenta with few seeds attached. The pepper is flavorful without any heat, and a grassy finish.
Cachucha chile peppers are available year-round.
Cachucha chile peppers are botanically a variety of Capsicum chinense, and are predominantly found in the Caribbean and West Indies. They are sometimes referred to as Aji dulces or ‘sweet peppers’ in Puerto Rico. The small peppers are a popular ingredient in the cuisines of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The word Cachucha means “hat” in Spanish, so-named for its hat shape. In the Dominican Republic, it is Aji Cachucha or Aji Gustoso (tasty pepper). It can also be found under the name Ajicito, for small pepper or the broader name, ‘latern pepper’.
Cachucha chile peppers are high in vitamins C and B6. They are also a good source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin A. The Caribbean peppers contain trace amounts of iron, calcium, and protein. Cachucha peppers have extremely low levels of the compound capsaicin, which gives spicy peppers their kick.
Cachucha chile peppers are most commonly used in sofrito, a Latin American version of mirepoix. It is the base for many different recipes including soups, rice and bean dishes. Pair Cachucha chile peppers with onions, rice, beans and culantro, a popular herb in Puerto Rico. The small peppers can be stuffed for appetizers or serve a few stuffed Cachucha peppers sitting atop a con queso sauce. Substitute Cachuchas wherever a recipe calls for bell peppers. In the Dominican Republic, they are used in many dishes from pigeon peas and rice with coconut milk to whole roasted chicken. Store Cachucha peppers loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to five days. Sautéed or roasted Cachucha peppers can be frozen for future use.
The ability of Capsicum varieties to hybridize easily when planted near other varieties has caused problems for the non-spicy Aji dulce. Cross-pollination has caused an issue for sales of the habanero look-a-like in the United States. Sales and therefore exports of the small, sweet pepper dwindled because consumers were getting spicy peppers when anticipating sweet ones, or the Cachuchas are being mislabel by stores as habaneros. Consumers were wary of purchasing Cachuchas for fear of them being spicy, and started switching to cubanelles or other bell peppers.
Cachuchas, or Aji Dulce, are native to the Caribbean region. Most Capsicum chinense cultivars are native to South America, and those that naturalized on islands in the Caribbean were likely brought there by birds or by Portuguese travelers in the 15th century. Cachucha chile peppers are more commonly found in the Dominican Republic and in Puerto Rico, though they can be found growing in Florida and California in the United States and in Mexico. In the United States, Aji Dulce can be found in specialty stores and Latin American grocers.