Aji Amarillo Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are aji amarillo peppers?

There are so many flavors that converge in the aji amarillo pepper – a sun-drenched crispness, a fruity turn from the tropics, and even a hint of raisin.  Between the flavors, the yellow-golden hue, and a sultry medium-heat (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units), it’s like summer kissed these chilies. Aji amarillo is so delicious that it’s truly the chili of a nation. For Peru, it’s one of the pivotal ingredients used in their regional recipes – from hot sauces to salad toppings, it’s a staple of their cuisine. Outside of Peru, they are much tougher to find, but, obviously, well worth the hunt.

aji amarillo
Aji amarillo peppers – looking sun-kissed and delicious

Table of Contents

Aji amarillo fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)30,000 – 50,000
Median heat (SHU)40,000
Jalapeño reference point4 to 20 times hotter
SpeciesCapsicum Baccatum
SizeApproximately 4 to 5 inches long, tapered
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Tropical, Bright

What does aji amarillo mean? What’s the history if this chili?

In Spanish, aji means “chili” and amarillo means “yellow”, so simply aji amarillo is a “yellow chili.” Logical, yes, and it belies the generations this chili has impacted. It has been a staple of Peruvian cuisine for hundreds of years. In fact, the Incas used this chili which speaks to its long heritage. Its other name – Peruvian pepper – is truly more to the point. This is a chili that heats the blood of a nation and has done so for years.

How hot is the aji amarillo?

At 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), the aji amarillo matches the spiciness of cayenne peppers and tabasco chilies. It sits right in the middle of the medium heat range of the Scoville scale. Comparing it to our jalapeño reference point, the aji amarillo is four to twenty times hotter than a jalapeño pepper. It’s noticeably spicy, but cayenne sits on many spice racks, so this is a heat more than a few can enjoy.

Let’s also compare it to some other popular Peruvian chili peppers. The aji panca is a mere blip on the scale, running a mild 1,000 to 1,500 SHU. The lemon drop pepper (also known as aji limon) is slightly milder (15,000 to 30,000 SHU.) And the Peruvian white habanero is much spicier, running the typical 100,000 to 350,000 SHU of common habaneros.

–> Learn More: Read Our Peruvian Peppers Guide

What does it look like?

The name “yellow chili” speaks to the look, of course. But as the aji amarillo ages, it turns from yellow to a bright orange, sort of like the sun itself. They grow to four or five inches in length, with a slim chili body and thick juicy walls.

What do aji amarillo taste like?

There are so many flavors meshing together here – a clean sunny taste, hints of tropical fruit, and a slightly raisiny finish (that’s highlighted when this chili is dried.) Some compare the fruity flavor to a scotch bonnet pepper (but much milder), and that’s about right. Though we find the scotch bonnet to be slightly fruitier and the aji amarillo to be more bright in taste. Its flavor profile and broader shape just makes it a little more usable across a variety of recipes and cooking methods.

How are these peppers typically used?

In Peru, this chili has permeated their cuisine. Any authentic Peruvian cookbook will be chock-full of recipes calling for the aji amarillo. Really, the versatility of this chili is a big part of what makes it special. Its fruitiness makes it terrific in hot sauces and salsas, and it tastes quite good fried with a little olive oil and sea salt as a side dish.

Try them raw, too, mixed into a refreshing summer salad. The pairing of goat cheese and aji amarillo over greens is no doubt a simple, yet special treat. Plus, there are many classic Peruvian dishes that rely on this chili as a staple ingredient. Peruvian ceviche is a popular authentic use, as is papa a la huancaina (boiled potatoes topped with a fiery cheese sauce.) There’s also the simple aji amarillo sauce (see our recipe) that is delicious as a condiment on many meals.

–> Learn More: Our Papa A La Huancaina Recipe

Where can you buy aji amarillo?

Buying these chilies fresh in North America will take a specialty store. If you have a Latin grocer near you, you may be in luck. Otherwise, you can buy aji amarillo paste and dried chilies online. The paste is quite tasty and can make a good substitute for when the fresh chili is not available. Dried aji amarillo (also known as aji mirasol) tends to concentrate the summer-like flavors of this pepper, and the raisin tartness is more prominent as well. When rehydrated, they, too, are viable substitutes for the fresh chili in sauces, marinades, and stews.

And, of course, you can grow your own. If you have a green thumb, aji amarillo seeds are available at local gardening centers and online.

There really is so much to love about this hot pepper. It has a unique flavor, a rich history, and a very eatable heat. Introducing the aji amarillo to your kitchen – especially in its native Peruvian cuisine – can open your eyes to whole new worlds of taste.

  • The Hot Pepper List: See how fresh aji amarillo stack up to other chilies. We profile 150+ – search them by name, heat level, flavor and more.
  • Manzano Pepper Guide: Another chili from South America with delicious fruitiness, but the Manzano has some unique qualities.
  • Yellow Peppers Guide: Discover more chilies that take sun-like hues.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on August 25, 2023 to include new content.
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Donna Chickering

I am going to make a Peruvian salad for a Spanish-language class presentation and the recipe calls for fresh aji amarillos. As I can’t find any fresh ones here in southern Oregon, I ordered some paste from Amazon so I can at least approximate the taste — if not the appearance or texture — in the recipe. Do you have a good substitution ratio to use? I would be mixing the paste into a marinade of oil, vinegar, and lime juice. The recipe call for ONE fresh chili. Thanks for any suggestions!

Alexandra Hoch

The incomparable Chili Woman identifies a number of different kinds of Aji Amarillo chiles for sale in her amazing annual catalog; but it doesn’t stop there. If you’re serious about chiles of all kinds, from sweet to super hot, hers is the place to go