The “ají dulce” represents one of the main flavors in the Venezuelan cuisine, it’s a pepper variety that is mostly found in the Caribbean and part of South America. In Venezuela it’s cultivated in different regions obtaining different varieties.
This aji dulce belong to the Capsicum family, and existing different species on this genre, C. annuum, C. frutescens and C. chinense, which have adapted to the regional conditions; originally cultivated at the east of the country and traveling from there to the mid west.
So the varieties are mostly known from their regional origins:
Eastern Aji dulce (aji dulce oriental) a variety of the Capsicum chinense
From the east you can find the “Aji pepón”, which is a variety with close to none heat, balloon shaped with green colors at early stages and red, purple or yellow when ripe.
You may also find the “ají Rosa”, belonging from the surroundings of Maturín city, it’s the most popular one, with longer shape thicker, rugged skin and red when ripe, from the apex grow the edges resembling a rose flower.
From Cumaná city you may find the “Jobito”, named for its resemble to the “yellow mombin” fruit which is named in Spanish jobo. It’s smaller, rounded and with thicker and smooth skin that turns yellow when ripe.
From the Mid west flat lands you will find the “Ají dulce llanero” or “llanerón”, a variety of the Capsicum annuum. Which is grown at the Venezuelan Flat lands, presenting longer fruits with orange or red colors when ripe, it’s taste is intense and fragrant and it may contain some heat, however when the plant has too much heat must be discarded.
The heat on the sweet peppers.
The sweet peppers, aswell most of the capsicum family, has a substance that produces heat called Capsaicin which is the defense mechanism that the plant uses agains the plages, on all the peppers there is always some level of this component, but as it content increase will present fruits with more heat, turning the sweet peppers into chili peppers.
Normally the capsaicin it’s presented at the placenta, which is the place that contains the seeds and removing that part of the fruit you can extract most of the capsaicin, I normally cut the top, the seeds and the endocarp (the opaque internal membrane) leavin the pulp exposed and ready to use.
The aji ducles contain many bio active substances, the most known is the capsaicin, that stimulates the blood circulation, helps to regulate temperature and has anestesic properties. The aji dulce has an significant caloric content (for each 100 grams, calories 46, fat: 6 g, Protein: 19g), it contains water, fiber and vitamins C, E, A, B1, B2, B3, B6, it also possess minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and calcium, and also folic acid, carotene and beta-carotene.
The Venezuelan chef Helena Ibarra, confesses to writer Mayte Navarro that one of the secrets to the preparation of the (Venezuelan) “sofrito criollo” is to have in mind that the ingredients at different, so the cooking time can’t be the same between the garlic and the aji dulce, so they must be cooked separately. “The are sautéed by separate and then bridged together, this way the aji dulce keeps it’s perfume and it’s not contaminated by the garlic”.