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.
Your best heat profile alternative, often available in stores: 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 (like summer in a chili) 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 here. Still, it’ll provide enough heat to be a substitute when needed.
Your best flavor alternative with a big-time heat bump: 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. The 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.