Aji Amarillo Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

Aji Amarillo peppers are a type of chili pepper that is common in Peruvian cuisine, known for their unique, fruity flavor and cayenne-like medium heat level. The name “Aji Amarillo” translates to “yellow chili” in Spanish, but these peppers, when fully mature, actually turn a bright orange color. They measure between 30,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale.

Aji Amarillo peppers are incredibly versatile and are used in a variety of dishes, including sauces, stews, and ceviche. They are often used fresh or in paste form to add depth and complexity to dishes. The peppers have a unique flavor profile that is slightly fruity with a hint of passion fruit and raisin, which sets them apart from other chili peppers. Despite their heat, Aji Amarillo peppers are celebrated for their flavor as much as their spiciness.

aji amarillo
Aji amarillo peppers, with their sun-like orange color

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

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 and taste like?

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

In terms of the flavor, this is one of the best tasting chilies out there. The aji amarillo has a clean, sunny taste; hints of tropical fruit; and a slightly raisiny finish. 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, broader shape, and lesser heat than the scotch bonnet make it more usable across a variety of recipes and cooking methods.

Dried aji amarillos lose some of the sweetness and take on a lightly smoky, sunburnt taste. The raisiny finish is more pronounced. Think of it somewhat like the difference between a fresh tomato and a sundried tomato.

Aji amarillo sauce and the fresh pepper

Cooking with aji amarillo

In Peru, this chili is gully engrained in their cuisine. Any authentic Peruvian cookbook will be chock-full of recipes calling for the aji amarillo. Peruvian ceviche is a popular authentic use, as is papa a la huancaina (boiled potatoes topped with a fiery cheese sauce.)

But 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 a simple, yet special treat.

More tips

  • Take care with the handling of aji amarillo. These chilies look more unassuming than some, given the sunny color. But there’s legitimate cayenne-level heat here. Use gloves in the handling of these chilies, even when using dried chilies.
  • Learn how to combat chili burn. That’s the downside of cooking with any chilies. It’s very easy to get the uncomfortable burn from handling them, particularly when cut open. Read our post on how to remedy that burning sensation. Milk is your best option, but there are many more.

Popular aji amarillo ingredient pairings

These are among the most common ingredient pairings, but the aji amarillo is quite versatile. It’s a terrific culinary chili by which to explore pairing options.

  • Cilantro: The bright, citrusy flavor of cilantro pairs well with the fruity, medium heat of aji amarillo. This combination is a staple in Peruvian cuisine, providing a balance of freshness and heat.
  • Garlic: The robust, pungent flavor of garlic complements the fruity spiciness of aji amarillo. This pairing creates a depth of flavor that works well in many dishes, including stews and sauces.
  • Lime: The tartness of lime juice can help to balance the heat of aji amarillo. This pairing is often used in ceviche and other seafood dishes to create a vibrant, tangy flavor profile.
  • Cumin: Cumin’s earthy, slightly bitter flavor pairs well with the fruity heat of aji amarillo. This combination is often used in stews and meat dishes, adding complexity and warmth.
  • Onion: The sweet, slightly sharp flavor of onion complements the fruity spiciness of aji amarillo. This pairing forms the base for many Peruvian dishes, creating a flavorful foundation.
  • Queso Fresco: The mild, creamy flavor of queso fresco can help to temper the heat of aji amarillo. This pairing is often used in Peruvian appetizers and sauces, providing a pleasing contrast of flavors and textures.
  • Potatoes: Being neutral in flavor is why potatoes are a good fit for aji amarillo. The chili itself (and the sauces made from it) are so tasty that they can stand on their own as the main flavor driver of a dish. Potatoes are an excellent neutral base for it.
  • Tomato: The sweet, tangy flavor of tomato pairs well with the fruity heat of aji amarillo. This combination is often used in salsas and sauces, creating a balanced, vibrant flavor profile.

Recipes featuring aji amarillo

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 15, 2024 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