I’ve been meaning to write up a little list on the use of herbs and spices in Argentina, and I’ll get to that eventually, but aji molido came up twice about a week ago so I’ll get it out of the way first. First, there was a comment on the chimichurri recipe post and then one through e-mail; the latter a request for retailers that sell it in the U.S and I listed a couple at the end of this post.
Note: Aji molido (ground red pepper in Argentina) is also known as aji triturado (crushed red pepper) and, at times, aji picante or aji picante molido (hot pepper.) For the rest of this post I’ll just refer to it as aji molido.
When I first encountered aji molido in Argentina, I noticed a much softer more moist texture, with a slightly thicker flesh, than red pepper counterparts I had seen widely available in the U.S. (See photos for comparison) The level of heat is quite mild yet tingles the tongue as much as biting into a black pepper berry. The heat more from the seeds than flakes. Maybe that’s just my scorched tongue talking. Though, it lacks in heat, is definitely made up in earthy flavor. Lightly sweet and smoky with hints of tobacco and dried fruits.
In Argentina, those who enjoy aji molido’s flavor and spice will add it to all sorts of dishes, but there are a few classics, depending on whose recipe you are looking at, where the flaky red stuff is a downright requirement. These are, but not limited to, chimichurri, empanadas, pizza, stews, sofrito, and adobos for meats. At an asado, one can often see a spicy reddish chimichurri packed with aji molido right next to the mild version.
From reading various sources, my belief is that aji molido is simply from the same peppers used for certain types of pimenton or paprika–peppers from the capsicum annuum species. I could only find one company that clearly translates aji molido as hot paprika so I’m taking their word for it. The aroma, flavor, and level of heat are practically the same. If aji molido has picante prominently resting between the two words then the mixture may consist of cayenne peppers. If so, the packaging will often state such information. As to which specific peppers are used for the general mild aji molido, I’m still looking, or I should say waiting, for a definitive answer. The Intsituto Nacional de Technologia Agropecuario (INTA,) or National Institute of Agricultural Technology, lists anaheim and jalapeños as peppers [.DOC file] used for pimenton picante (hot paprika.) For now, I’m leaning on anaheim as lead pepper for most major brands of aji molido in Argentina.**
Aji molido can be bought at:
**I’ll update this article when someone replies to my inquiries.