How to Grow Aji Limo

Learn how to grow ‘Aji Límo,’ a spicy Andean pepper with a lemony flavor.

| February/March 2006

One of the most flavorful of the Andean peppers, ‘Aji Límo’ (pronounced ah-hee lee-mo) has survived from pre-Columbian times. Its name means “Lima pepper,” in reference to the Peruvian city. Its distinctive citrus flavor and the bright yellow color of the ripe pods immediately bring to mind the crisp aromas of lemons and limes. A strong hint of citron (the less acidic cousin of lemons and limes) counterbalances the intense spiciness for which this pepper is well-known. The heat, fruitiness and floral quality contribute to the complexity of flavors achieved when the pepper is used in salsas.

Gift of the Andes

An heirloom with quite an impressive genealogy, ‘Aji Límo’ belongs to a large group of peppers that came under cultivation on the western slopes of the Andes by at least 400 B.C., and perhaps even earlier. Most of these peppers, ‘Aji Límo’ included, belong to the species Capsicum baccatum, which are first cousins to our common bell peppers and most of the subtropical peppers from Mexico. As a group, baccatums are noted for their distinctive flavors and tolerance of cold weather. This is one reason why they have become extremely popular in England, where cool nights can stunt the growth of many peppers. The baccatums also are extremely frost-tolerant, so it is easy to extend their growing season well beyond that of other peppers. In fact, the ‘Aji Límo’ plants in my garden grow well until the temperature drops to about 25 degrees, and even after that, their woody stems can be pruned, dug up and brought indoors for overwintering.

A number of books about peppers have created the misconception that aji is a specific type of pepper. “Aji” is a Spanish transliteration of axi, the Arawak (one of the indigenous languages in the greater Caribbean) word for pepper. “Aji” has become a general term throughout South America for peppers regardless of species or variety.

Several seed companies that sell ‘Aji Límo’ have renamed it. In fact, many years ago, when the pepper first came into circulation in the United States, its name was mistakenly written as aji limón (“lemon pepper”), which may be why its common commercial name is ‘Lemon Drop.’

Commercial seed purity varies greatly, so it is possible to see wide variation not only in pod shape and size, but also in the all-important taste. (See “Aji Límo Sources” later in this article for a list of companies with pure seed.) The ‘Aji Límo’ seed I grow and offer through the Seed Savers Yearbook was collected by Texas pepper specialist Jean Andrews, who found a supply of the peppers at an open market in Arequipa, Peru.

The plants are low bushes, no more than 18 inches tall, and once they begin to produce peppers, their branches tend to droop in an attractive manner. From a landscaping standpoint, this pepper is ideal for borders, can be planted along the tops of retaining walls and will even thrive on balconies and in window boxes. Best of all, it’s a heavy producer. One plant may yield up to 40 pods. Once the pods begin to ripen, they change from light green to a brilliant waxy yellow and they grow to about 3 inches long.

8/17/2017 4:06:06 PM

I have been to Peru over 16 times and I've never seen straight yellow aji limo. The fruits can be purple, orange, red, yellow, green-yellow, green, etc. You can see a picture of what aji limo will look like in a market in Peru. I made the mistake of buying seeds from a supplier in England and I got something much different. I brought seeds back with me from my last trip and now I have a patio full of aji limo plants. None of the fruits are yellow.

7/10/2014 3:31:56 AM

I love peppers.

6/17/2014 4:09:58 AM

This is nice. I like it. Thanks for sharing.

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