Aji Amarillo: The Peruvian Chili Pepper

Spicy, fruity, and vibrant, aji amarillo is a star ingredient from South America where it’s added to curries, stews, condiments, salsas, and hot sauces. Read on to learn more about aji amarillo, it’s uniquely spicy taste, and its culinary uses.

What is Aji Amarillo?

Aji amarillo (Capsicum baccatum) belongs to the genus Capsicum, which is well known for its five domesticated species of chili peppers. Aji amarillo, in particular, has a strong association with Peruvian cuisine as well as the South American Andean region where it is used in a number of dishes, sauces, and condiments. Intriguingly, amarillo chili, together with red onion and cilantro, make up the Peruvian “holy trinity” of condiments. Geographical evidence shows the origin of these chiles dates back 6000 years ago, to Peru and Mexico. 

Today, aji amarillo is a staple pepper in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile. It’s also regarded as an ornamental plant and is widely grown in South America to be exported to other regions, especially for aesthetic reasons.

Image Credit: Flickr user Neven Mrgan ( CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

What does Aji Amarillo Look Like?

“Aji amarillo” is a Spanish word literally meaning “yellow chili peppers”. “Aji” means “chili” and “amarillo” means “yellow”. The unripe aji amarillo peppers are yellow, while they gradually attain a bright orange hue as they mature. They are thick-skinned, smooth textured, and grow up to 5 inches in length.

What Does the Aji Amarillo Taste Like? 

Aji amarillo is a hot pepper that doesn’t feel unbearingly hot to the palate due to the fact that it also has a fruity sweet flavor that’s reminiscent of berries, mangoes, and passion fruit. On the Scoville heat scale, these peppers clock in around 30000 to 50000 SHU.

Aji Amarillo Uses

Amarillo chili is very popular in Peruvian cuisine where it’s either used fresh or in dried form. Quite recently, aji amarillo paste has become so popular that you can easily find it in Latin grocery stores and online all over the United States. 

Aji sauce, in particular, has its own fan base in Peruvian, Columbian, and Ecuadorian cuisines, where it’s savored as a condiment alongside grilled or roasted meat dishes, vegetables, and fried snacks. It’s prepared with aji amarillo paste, mayonnaise, sour cream, fresh cheese, green onions, lemon juice, and seasonings. You can make your own aji sauce using this recipe that perfectly complements chicken tempura, seafood, French fries, tortilla chips, and any other snacks of your choice. 

Among the popular aji recipes, papa a la huancaina (Peruvian appetizer of boiled potatoes coated in a rich creamy sauce served over lettuce leaves), aji de gallina (Peruvian chicken stew), and Fricasé Paceño (traditional Bolivian soup) come in at the top. However, you can replace jalapeños or cayenne pepper with aji amarillo in the following recipes for a spicy kick that’s also beautifully balanced with the fruity-sweet flavor that comes with these peppers.

●      Beef chili

●      Texas Chili

●      Sweet and Spicy Peach Pork Chops

●      Chicken Paprikash with Buttered Egg Noodles

Moreover, aji pepper makes a great addition to salsas, and salads, however, we recommend you begin incorporating them into recipes, in small amounts to enjoy their unique flavor without burning your palate.

Image Credit: Flickr user loustejskal.com ( CC BY 2.0 )

Feature Image: Flickr user Chasqui (Luis Tamayo) ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

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