The aji amarillo is the most popular Peruvian chili pepper, and for good reason. It’s flavor is tropical, yet sun-kissed, with a little raison-y finish – making it a delicious culinary chili pepper to explore. In terms of color, it starts as a yellow pepper and as it ages it takes on more of a fiery yellow-orange. There’s also a decent amount of heat here, comparable, too, to the cayenne pepper.
There are so many flavors that converge in the aji amarillo pepper – a sun-drenched crispness, a fruity turn from the tropics, and even a hint of raisin. Between the flavors, the yellow-golden hue, and a sultry medium-heat, it’s like summer kissed these chilies. Aji amarillo is so delicious that it’s truly the chili of a nation. For Peru, it’s one of the pivotal ingredients used in their regional recipes – from hot sauces to salad toppings, it’s a staple of their cuisine. Outside of Peru, they are much tougher to find, but, obviously, well worth the hunt.
In Spanish, aji means “chili” and amarillo means “yellow”, so simply aji amarillo is a “yellow chili”. Logical, yes, and it belies the generations this chili has impacted. It has been a staple of Peruvian cusine for hundreds of years. In fact, the Incas used this chili which speaks to its long heritage. It’s other name – Peruvian pepper – is truly more to the point. This is a chili that heats the blood of a nation and has done so for years.
At 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units, it matches up with cayenne pepper and tabasco chilies. It sits right in the middle of the medium heat section of the Scoville scale. Comparing it to our jalapeño reference point, the aji amarillo is four to twenty times hotter. It’s not so mild as to merely be a simmer and not so hot as to turn off all but the serious spicy food fans. It’s a heat that pushes the envelope, but doesn’t burn it up.