Throughout South America, the Rocoto pepper goes by many different names: Capsicum pubescens, locoto, rocote, caballo, horse pepper, canary pepper, apple pepper, and pear pepper.
They are native to Peru and might be the oldest domesticated chile pepper – they were used regularly for food and medicine by the ancient Incas.
The famed Rocotos are unique and differ a lot from your typical chile – keep reading to discover why! Looking for Rocoto pepper seeds? Check availability.
Rocoto Pepper Characteristics
The Rocoto pepper is shaped like an apple or pear, resembling a small bell pepper. Rocotos grow to between two and three inches in length.
Rocoto plants look more like vines than pepper plants, earning them the name “tree pepper.”
Their coloration is one factor that sets the Rocoto apart from other peppers. Like bell peppers, they start green and mature to red, but they can be picked and eaten at these different stages for different flavor profiles.
However, unlike most other pepper varieties, Rocotos have black seeds and purple flowers! This characteristic is unique to only a few varieties of the Capsicum genus.
You might think their bell pepper-like appearance would give you a good idea of what you’re biting into with a Rocoto pepper. However, the texture and build of a Rocoto are more akin to a tomato than to a pepper.
They’re juicy and meaty, much more so than other peppers, and have thick, crunchy skin. Unlike other chile varieties, this makes them very difficult to use in dried form.
Flavor-wise, Rocotos are sweet, fresh, and fruity. But be warned: sweet does not mean mild!
How Hot is a Rocoto Pepper?
Measuring between 30,000 – 100,000 Scoville Heat Units, Rocoto peppers pack quite the punch!
The Rocoto pepper is roughly twenty times hotter than the average jalapeno, situating its spice level on par with Habenero or Scotch Bonnet.
As satisfying as it might be to bite into a Rocoto like the crunchy apple it resembles, do so with great caution!
Rocoto Pepper Vs. Manzano
The Rocoto pepper often gets confused with its cousin, the Manzano pepper. This makes sense since the Manzano receives its name from manzana, the Spanish word for apple.
Though they are closely related and share characteristics, they are different peppers. For one, Rocoto peppers are much hotter. If you snack on a Rocoto thinking it’s a Manzano, you’ll be in for quite the surprise.
Another difference between the two is that Rocoto peppers grow much further south, so the Rocoto can tolerate much cooler climates.
Cooking with Rocoto Peppers
Rocoto peppers are a featured ingredient in many traditional South American dishes, particularly in Bolivia and Peru, where it’s a kitchen staple.
Because of their juicy, meaty texture, Rocotos are hard to dry, so they are almost always eaten fresh or baked.
In addition to their cultural significance, Rocotos have anti-inflammatory properties and are high in vitamins.
Rocoto Pepper Recipes
One popular Rocoto recipe in South America is the Rocoto rellenos, which consists of halved Rocotos stuffed with meat, cheese, and egg and baked in the oven.
Rocotos are often found in ceviches, too. Ceviche is a raw dish where lime juice chemically cooks and cures the fish or shellfish, and the fresh, fruity heat of the Rocoto pepper pairs wonderfully with the other ceviche flavors.
If you like your salsa with a little kick, the Rocoto’s tomato-like texture makes it a great addition to your recipe.
Rocoto Pepper Growing Guide
If you couldn’t tell, Rocotos are pretty different from other chile varieties! Because they are endemic to the Andes Mountains and other southern regions of South America, they thrive in cooler temperatures and partial sun.
Once planted outdoors, they thrive in 45°F to 60°F temperatures. You’ll find it difficult to get your Rocotos to flower outdoors above 70°F.
However, there’s a bit of work to be done on your pepper seeds before it’s time to take them outside.
Germinating Rocoto Pepper Seeds
Start your seeds indoors in moist soil under a heat lamp or grow lights for up to eight weeks. The Rocoto seedlings germinate best in soil between 70°F and 80°F.
After germinating, transfer the seedlings into pots until six true leaves appear and in early spring after the last frost.
Rocoto pepper plants need to be hardened off, meaning they need time to acclimate to the temperature change between inside and outside before you move them from pots to direct soil.
To do this, you can take your potted Rocotos outdoors on a warm day and allow them to sit in the shade for a few hours. Gradually increase the time spent outdoors until they’re ready to be transplanted.
Then, you can transfer your new Rocoto plants into your garden, where they will bloom in late summer and fruit in the fall.
Germinating your Rocoto pepper seeds can be challenging, but your diligence will pay off! They are super productive under the right conditions.
Harvesting and Mature Plants
After roughly 100 days, your peppers are ready to harvest! But the best practice is to keep the fruit on the plant until you’re ready to use them.
Rocotos like moist, loamy soil and do well with trellising to support their vine-like structure. They prefer magnesium and calcium-rich soil, so be sure to use an appropriate fertilizer to ensure their success.
Though they can be picky, Rocoto peppers are high-producing plants that grow up to 15 feet long and live as long as 15 years, making the time put into their care well worth it.
Where to Buy Rocoto Peppers
Rocoto peppers are not widely commercially grown outside of independent and home growers. However, if you have access to farmer’s markets or a Latin grocer, you may have some luck finding fresh Rocotos!
The seeds and chile paste are more widely available than the fresh peppers themselves, and you can find different options for both online.
If you’re up for growing Rocotos, order your seeds to be ready for spring planting!
Ready to Try Growing Rocoto Peppers?
As far as chiles go, the unique qualities of the Rocoto pepper make them a cut above the rest. But don’t just take our word for it – try growing Rocotos for yourself!
For more information about growing and enjoying peppers, visit the Pepper Plants page on our website.