The aji amarillo chili is very popular in its native Peru, but finding it elsewhere can be a bit tricky. If your recipe calls for it, you’re likely looking for alternatives. So what’s a good aji amarillo substitute that you’re more likely to find in stores? You have some tough choices ahead. Be prepared to make a sacrifice on the fruity flavor or a drastic bump up in the heat. There really aren’t any substitutes that provide a good mix of both.
The aji amarillo is one of only a handful of peppers that have a paste form that's widely sold. If you find yourself needing this chili often, consider picking up a bottle to keep in the cabinet. It's an excellent alternative for when you can't find the chili fresh.
Table of Contents
- Your best option (widely available): Serrano pepper
- Your best alternatives for flavor: Habanero or Scotch bonnet
- Your unique option: Manzano pepper
- Must-read related posts
Your best option (widely available): Serrano pepper
The serrano pepper does come in a tick under aji amarillo on the pepper scale: 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units compared to 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. There are chilies that are better heat matches – like the cayenne and the tabasco pepper – but they aren’t often found fresh in stores, while serrano pepper is fast becoming a common sight.
But here’s the catch: the flavor profile between these two chilies is completely different. Aji amarillo is fruity and a little grassy, while the serrano is bright with a crisp bite. It tastes more like a jalapeño with the heat turned up a few notches.
Most recipes that call for aji amarillo do so to take advantage of the fruitiness of the pepper, so you will be losing out on some flavor here. Still, it’ll provide enough heat to be a substitute when needed, especially since it’s so prevalent in store.
Your best alternatives for flavor: Habanero or Scotch bonnet
These two chilies play in a different playground completely, with Scoville heat ranges from 100,000 to 350,000. This is at least double the spiciness with the potential for a whole lot more – up to eleven times spicier. For many, this is a challenging level of heat, so don’t think of this as a family-friendly substitution.
But while the heat profile is vastly different, the flavors are more of a match. The habanero and especially the scotch bonnet have fruity flavor profiles that perform well as taste substitutes for the aji amarillo. They actually can be sweeter, with hints of tropical fruit. If you can stand the heat, these are your best bets to maintain a recipe’s flavor intent. Both can be found in stores, but the habanero is the one you’ll more likely see.
Your unique option: Manzano pepper
There’s a lot of similarities between the manzano and the aji amarillo. Both have a sweet, citrusy taste. Both have a beautiful summer-like yellow hue. And even the heat is closer together than the substitutes above. The manzano ranges from 12,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units, so at its hottest it reaches the mildest aji amarillo.
That said, the manzano is one of the more unique chilies on the Scoville scale. The plants themselves have a light fur on them. And the seeds inside the chili are black, not the normal white you see in most other chili types.
If you can find a manzano fresh, it’s an excellent aji amarillo alternative. But that’s a big “if”. This is not a common hot pepper, so expect some searching if you’re interested in the swap.
Must-read related posts
- The Hot Pepper List: These chilies are just a few of the over 150 that we profile here at PepperScale. Search our list by name, heat range, flavor, origin, and more.
- Our Hot Sauce Rankings: With over 100 hot sauce reviews, we can help you find your next new favorite. Plus, for you true pepper heads, filter our list by the peppers used.
- Peruvian Peppers Guide: The aji amarillo is one, do you know the others?