Aji panca is a favorite for Peruvian cuisine, and with its berry-like smoky flavor its easy to see why. Aji panca is typically found in paste or powder form, and in both forms, they are simple to source online. But what if you need a substitute right away? What’s a good aji panca substitute that will do in a pinch to keep the flavors as authentic as possible? Let’s review your best options.
A note before we begin: Aji amarillo and other “aji” pepper products are typically not good alternatives to aji panca. Beyond flavor differences, the aji panca is much milder (1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units) – closer to a bell pepper than the aji amarillo (an equal to cayenne at 30,000 to 50,000 SHU). And where aji panca is berry sweet, aji amarillo has hints of tropical fruit more akin to a scotch bonnet.
Your closest eating experience: Pasilla peppers
Like the aji panca, the pasilla has a sweet and smoky flavor, but not quite berry-like. Think of the pasilla as more raisiny with hints of chocolate, and you’re close. But the sweetness does fall into the “close enough” category if opportunity trumps authenticity in the kitchen. The pasilla pepper is the dried form of the chilaca, and as such it’s easy to crush into powder or turn into a paste. As for heat, the pasilla can be just as mild, but with the potential to hit mild jalapeño heat (1,000 – 2,500 SHU).
A more common alternative: Ancho powder/ ancho paste
The ancho pepper (the dried form of the poblano) may be easier to source than the pasilla. Both ancho powder and ancho paste are growing more common on store shelves. Its heat (1,000 to 1,500 SHU) is spot on to the aji panca, but the flavor is just a little further away than the pasilla. The ancho is smoky sweet with a touch of coffee bean that adds an earthy twist. Still, with its greater availability, leaning on the ancho is often your best option.
A step up: Chipotle powder
Now, this isn’t a perfect substitution taste-wise. Chipotle is smoky and earthy, not sweet at all. But if you want more heat than aji panca, chipotle is an excellent step up the pepper scale ladder. It’s a dried and smoked jalapeño pepper, so it has a very eatable low-medium heat (2,500 to 8,000 SHU). Chipotle powder is widely available online and in supermarkets, so it is by far the easiest to source.