Pimenta Baniwa

Posted by Gregory Prang on

A brief introduction video can be seen here

Pimenta Baniwa, or Baniwa Pepper, is the brand name for a blend of more than 70 local varieties of 5 species of Capsicum peppers known as jiquitaia.     

Photo: ©Rogério Assis

The name jiquitaia is named after a small ant, whose sting burns too. It is produced by the women of Baniwa communities of the Içana River and its tributaries and has been cultivated in their gardens using traditional, organic, and sustainable methods for centuries. Just in Brazil, there are 93 Baniwa communities, covering around 3 million hectares, participating in this network and now are organizing to share Baniwa peppers with other communities.  The Baniwa, who also inhabit parts of Colombia and Venezuela, are organized in at least four internal divisions, phratries called (Dzawinai, Walipere-dakenai, Hohodene and Curipaco) and two dozen clans, which are anchored in their ancestors macro-territories.

This huge diversity of pepper varietals is the result of local seed exchange networks developed over millennia, and an important component of the traditional agricultural system of the Rio Negro. In 2010, the National Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) of Brazil declared jiquitaia as an intangible heritage of Brazil because of the diversity of cultivated plants, farm management techniques, culinary tradition, process and storage gear and indigenous plant knowledge.

The Baniwa people traditionally use jiquitaia on fish, the main source of protein. This pepper can also be used in many different dishes such as salads, pastas, sweets, chocolate, cream, or even with exotic fruits like pineapple or mango.  Since he was introduced to Pimenta Baniwa in 2005, world-renown chef Alex Atala often uses it in his recipes in his restaurants, D.O.M. and Dalva e Dito.  Through his ATA Institute, Atala raised funds to help the Baniwa in their production.

The Baniwa people want to share a part of their culture by selling one of their most traditional aromatic condiments. This project is managed by OIBI (Indigenous Organization of the Içana Basin*), which has been the head of the award-winning Baniwa Art Project, along with the support of the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA).  The Pimenta Baniwa project also demonstrates that it is possible to benefit traditional societies of the rainforest without destroying it through the development of social and environmental networks in the region.

*OIBI is a non-profit organization founded in 1992 that represents a variety of Baniwa and Curipaco communities of the Içana River Basin, in northwest Brazil. Its aims are to promote and preserve the environment, territorial integrity, and the traditional cultures of these people, but also to help them to improve their lives and to legally defend their rights.


According to Baniwa mythology, peppers were a present from the mythical hero Ñapirikoli so that his descendants could purify and protect their food from any threat that might harm them.

"Pepper is at the heart of our culture, at the center of our food, at the center of our traditional upbringing, the center of our medicine to protect us from evil spirits that naturally attack humans, at the center of the transmission of Baniwa knowledge and ethics." (Report 1, Workshop of the Management of the Dzoroo Pepper House / Exercise of the Co-management project in the Içana - OIBI/ABRIC/ISA/FOIRN, 2013).

"There are several episodes in which the Ñapirikoli used pepper for cooking food, so today, we Walimanai use it in day-to-day in our food.  Pepper gives us health, protects us, it is our medicine every day. "(Ibid).


After collecting the best peppers, the production is sold to the “Baniwa Pepper Houses" (Casas de Pimenta).  Next, the peppers are-dried for about 2 days, then crushed and mixed with salt (Sal de Maras, see below).  The production is not intensive. Producing pepper is part of the lives of Baniwa women, so it’s not so much work as it is a form of cultural preservation. The pepper is produced in four different processing facilities co-managed by a man and woman chosen by the Baniwa communities scattered along the Içana.

The “Baniwa Pepper Houses" are buildings processing facilities and with modern tools for processing (weighing and cleaning), bottling and storage of different types of jiquitaia. They are specially designed and built with the guidance of a body of research on the processing of this delicacy according to aesthetic requirements, stability and sustainable use of materials in traditional Baniwa architecture, meet the requirements of Anvisa (National Agency Health Surveillance), but also according to traditional Baniwa standards of quality. The pepper houses are responsible for the aggregate production of family plots of a particular Baniwa region, organizing the processing and storage under special production protocols for the market, and performing quality control and information flow that allows traceability along the chain and its environmental benefits.

The houses are under a co-management protocol previously agreed upon between the partner organizations of the project, being under the supervision of the community and the community association in the region where it is located, and also the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), FOIRN (Federation of Indigenous Organizations of the Rio Negro) and OIBI.  Operationally, they operate under the direct responsibility of production co-managers (necessarily a man and a woman).

Baniwa pepper houses also fulfill an important role in consolidating Centers of Management and Indigenous Entrepreneurship establishing healthy and fair bridges between the high value-added socio-environmental markets, pepper houses and women producers of the communities. As such, they should work as the focus of aggregation and animation of a network of indigenous and non-indigenous researchers connected on issues relevant to the improvement of Baniwa pepper and technological development of innovations that lead to the supply of other products derived from a traditional agricultural system maintained by indigenous women of the Rio Negro.

Each jar that leaves a Pepper House to the final consumer contains a lot code that provides information about the origin of production, the batch and the date it was packed, name of the producing women and their communities. The code also indicates pepper varietals that were used.  This makes each jar a personalized creation and ensures transparency of environmental benefits and traceability throughout the supply chain. Each jar has an average of 12 varieties of chilies, from a universe of 74 varietals of peppers grown by the Baniwa women.


Pimenta Baniwa uses salt from the famous Maras salt mine located in the Sacred Valley of the Inca in Peru.  The salt is a cluster of crystals that form on the surface of the water in the mine and is carefully harvested by artisans. These crystals are called flowers, because of the form the crystals take. Maras salt contains unique minerals and nutrients and is never subject to any manufacturing processes.  Each 35 ML jar of Pimenta Baniwa contains 1g of this precious salt.

Photo: ©Adeilson Lopes/ISA.


Pimenta Baniwa strengthens the Baniwa economy and quality of life with sustainable alternatives to reduce pressure for mining, drug trafficking, predatory extraction and other illegal and environmentally degrading activities.

All production value from cultivation to harvest to processing and packaging is performed by Baniwa women, who retain a large percentage of the retail price of the product. The majority of the proceeds from the sale of Pimenta Baniwa (27.78%) end up in the hands of the women, the producers, who invest this income mainly in hygiene and personal care, utensils and the education of their children.  The second largest part of the proceeds is dedicated to paying federal and state taxes (21%).

Photo: ©Adeilson Lopes/ISA.

Abomi Florinda, under the watchful eye of granddaughter: “Look! This is the result of the dedication to my work.  When you grow and take care of your pepper garden, you can also see your efforts recognized!”

Photo: ©Adeilson Lopes/ISA.

Maria Lucia, of the Hohodeni phratry and resident of the community Tamanduá (Upper Içana River), a region that suffers directly from illegal mining impacts, taking her production to the Dzooro Pepper House, which is two days' journey in Tunui Waterfall (Middle Içana River). Soon, Maria will have a Pimenta house closer to her community, which is being built with support received from the ATA Institute, and the Socio-Environmental Institute.


In addition to valuing the care and effort of women in maintaining their gardens, Pimenta Baniwa invests in training young people to become conscious of their role in society and the importance of indigenous peoples in the past, present, and future of the world. Through your purchase of Pimenta Baniwa you are directly funding the education of the Baniwa and Curipaco children.

Photo: ©Marcelo Salazar/ISA.

Baniwa girls, students of the Pamáali School, admiring the opening ceremony of the Pepper House of Pamáali. This new facility, in addition to processing the pepper from the middle and upper Içana River, will also process the production of the community and school, thereby helping to finance the education of the Baniwa and Curipaco.


Learn more about Pimenta Baniwa by downloading the following PDF.


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