Aji criollo chiles drying on the vine at the Dávalos family farm. Tacuil, Salta Province, Argentina.


Aji criollo chiles drying on the vine at the Dávalos family farm. Tacuil, Salta Province, Argentina.
Photo by Galen McCleary

An intensely flavorful, subtly spicy chile from Argentina, aji criollo is the main ingredient in three of our spices: Aji Molido (pure ground chile), Chimichurri and Taco Seasoning. Grown by our partners Molino Cerrillos, this is the first certified organic aji criollo in the country. 

Aji criollo in its ground form (aji molido) gives mellow warmth and toasty flavor to chimichurri, the tangy sauce without which no Argentine asado, or barbecue, would be complete. It's also used in locro, a hearty lentil and squash stew; in empanadas; and for sprinkling on anything that needs a little kick. At Provisions, we use the aji to fire up several other foods we make, including Spicy Buffalo Jerky, Spicy Red-Bean Chili, and our Regenerative Organic™ Chile Mango snack.

Molino Cerillos chile fields at the base of mountains in the Salta province of Argentina
Molino Cerillos chile fields after the spring harvest, at 8,200 feet in the Salta province of Argentina.
Photo by Galen McCleary

Growing at 8,200 feet

Most of Argentina’s aji criollo comes from lower elevations in the Salta province, in northwest Argentina. The humidity there means it’s hard to grow the chiles without fungicides—they tend to mildew otherwise. But we wanted organic, fungicide-free production. It took us a while, but at last we found Molino Cerrillos.

Molino Cerrillos, a spice business in the provincial city of Salta, grinds chiles for aji molido, as well as several other types of chiles and spices; it also processes chia seeds, sesame seeds and legumes. Owner Fernando Dávalos has a family farm high in the arid plateaus southwest of the city, near the town of Taquil, where mildew doesn’t stand a chance. It’s ideal for raising organic chiles, and in 2016, Fernando began working with us to grow and then grind the first organic aji criollo in Argentina.

His family’s land dates back to the early 1800s and sprawls over 300,000 acres of stark, stunning mountains and valleys that resemble the Pyramids of Giza. It seems impossible that anything could grow this high up—at 8,200 feet—but about 200 acres are cultivated. A chunk of it is vineyard: The family’s Bodega Taquil, founded by Fernando’s ancestors in the 19th century and now run by his father and older brother, is well known for its intensely aromatic Malbec and Cabernet. The farm used to raise sweet pimentón chiles for paprika, and when he was a boy, Fernando and his brothers and sisters played hide and seek in the rustling red mountains of harvested peppers.

The farm is incredibly remote. When Fernando was little, getting to Taquil involved a mule ride of 4 or 5 days from Salta. Phone service didn’t arrive until 1995; full electric power came only in 2018. Even today, the drive from Salta takes several hours on hair-raising, unpaved mountain roads and across rocky riverbeds.

A hand holding a dry Aji criollo chile
The extreme terrain produces chiles with rich, concentrated flavor.
Photo by Galen McCleary

The Flavor of a Place

That rugged location made every aspect of the Provisions organic chile project a challenge. Supplies had to be brought in, and organic certifiers had to make their way there from Buenos Aires.

But the effort was worth it. The Taquil aji criollo aren’t just mildew-free—they’re also unusually tasty. Fernando and his team believe that the combination of extreme altitude, dry air, scanty irrigation, and harsh limestone soil make the plants fight for survival and results in deeper, richer flavors—the way their grapes develop added character, too. What tempers the chile’s heat? Most likely the climate, which never exceeds 90 F and often hangs out around 50 or 60 F.

The aji seedlings sprout in greenhouses in July, are transplanted to the fields in November, and by harvest time in May, the chiles have ripened to a brilliant scarlet. They’re left to dry on the plant, further concentrating the flavor. To preserve the vivid color as the chiles dry, the plants are uprooted and laid under shade trees. Then the pods are picked and trucked to the Molino Cerrillos facility in Salta, ground and briefly steamed to sterilize, and shipped to Provisions.

For Fernando, it’s been meaningful to watch his family’s farm evolve to organic production and enrich his beautiful part of the world, and to see how that’s transformed the company, too. “It gives me great satisfaction to see how my coworkers are, every day, more involved and excited about our responsible growth.”

A photo of hikers sitting on the mountainside in Argentina
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A years-long quest to find the right chile

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