WorldCrops - World Crops for the Northeastern United States

Ají dulce Capsicum chinense

aji dulce for sale at farmers' market

Ají dulce grown in Massachusetts for sale at a farmers' market in New Bedford, Mass. (Photo by Maria Moreira)

Ají dulce (Capsicum chinense) is a small, light green pepper that turns red if left long enough on the plant. In Puerto Rico, it is known as ají dulce or ajicito (sweet pepper and small pepper, respectively, in Spanish). In the Dominican Republic, it is also known as ají gustoso or ají cachucha (tasty pepper, and cap-shaped pepper, respectively, in Spanish). It has the shape and size of a habanero pepper without the intense heat. Unlike many other countries in Latin America, hot peppers are not commonly used in the cuisine of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, or Cuba. However, there can be some ají dulce fruit that is pungent, probably due to out-crossing.

This pepper is used to season dishes and is an important ingredient for sofrito, a sauce used in several Latin American cuisines. The majority of ají dulce found in Latino markets in the Northeast is imported from Latin America. In the tropics, this plant can grow as a perennial, although most of the commercial production is with annual systems.

Ají dulce grows well in the Northeast. One important difference compared to the production of C. annuum peppers is to start aji dulce earlier in the greenhouse, similar to other C. chinese such has habanero and scotch bonnet. In 1997, a research project at the UMass Research Farm using ají dulce seed donated by the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez evaluated two seeding dates for transplants. In this project, ají dulce plants started in a greenhouse in late March, which is a traditional time to start C. annuum plants in Massachusetts, yielded less than 3,000 lbs./acre of marketable fruit in the field. Ají dulce started three weeks earlier in the greenhouse yielded over 13,000 pounds/acre of marketable fruit.

Many sources of ají dulce from the Caribbean are infected with pepper mild mosaic virus (PMMoV). A breeding program on ají dulce at the University of Massachusetts has evaluated many ají dulce peppers from Latin America and found many infected with the PMMoV. This virus will not cause a complete loss of yield, but it can decrease yields. A greater concern is the fact that the virus is seed-borne, so saving seed from infected plants is not recommnded. Although the virus can spread from plant to plant through rigorous mechanical efforts, casual handling of infected fruit and seed followed by handling of non-infected seed does not transfer the virus to the clean seed.

For information on production and management of ají dulce, refer to the The New England Vegetable Management Guide and click on "pepper".

Ají dulce plant on a commercial farm in Puerto Rico that is approximately five years old. (Photo by Frank Mangan)

Seed Sources
Currently there are no hybrid seed available or OP varieties that are known to be clean of pepper mild mosaic virus.

In the Caribbean, farmers will save seed from harvested peppers to plant their next crop. Farmers in Massachusetts have taken seed from mature fruit in markets to start transplants. A concern with this practice is that you could select seed that has the pepper mild mosaic virus.

Ají gustoso (left) and ají cachucha from a commercial farm in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Frank Mangan)

Nutrition Documents
Sofrito - English
Sorfito - Spanish

A collaborative project produced by: Rutgers Cooperative Extension, UMASS Extension, and Cornell Cooperative ExtensionSponsored in part by: RMA and Northeast Region SARE
WorldCrops - World Crops for the Northeastern United States