What Are The Best Aji Pepper Substitutes?

If you’ve ever had fresh Peruvian food, chances are you’ve eaten aji pepper. This pepper is grown all throughout Peru and is used in the majority of traditional Peruvian dishes. It has a medium spice level which is balanced out with a good amount of sweetness that is especially apparent when the pepper is fresh.

If you’re going to be cooking Peruvian food, it’s important to use aji amarillo peppers. However, they can be difficult to find in some parts of the world. In these cases, you’ll need to use a high-quality substitute to get the same level of flavor.

The best substitutes for aji peppers are:

  1. Habanero peppers
  2. Scotch Bonnet peppers
  3. Manzano chiles
  4. Serrano peppers
  5. Frozen or dried aji peppers

All of these options have a good amount of spice blended with the sweetness that is so characteristic of aji peppers.

What Is Aji Amarillo?

Unless you are from Peru or grew up eating a lot of Peruvian cuisines, chances are you’ve never heard of aji amarillo. Aji amarillo is a type of pepper that is one of the most used peppers in all of the Peruvian food.

It is a spicy pepper, but it isn’t the spiciest like you’ll find with cayenne peppers or ghost peppers. Instead, this pepper sits in the medium range of the Scoville system typically rating from 30,000 to 50,000 units. This is significantly spicier than the more widely known jalapenos, but will still be tolerable to most people, especially when used in the context of a recipe. 

Typically, within Peruvian food, this type of pepper is used in ceviches and different salsas. It can also be chopped up and used as a topping for a variety of foods. However, it is most commonly processed and then used as a paste to flavor foods. Used in this way, it can be used to flavor soups as well as create sauces and marinades for meat and vegetables.

This makes it a super versatile pepper that can be eaten on its own as a vegetable source to get extra vitamins. It can also be used as a way to flavor different foods meaning that it can also be categorized as a type of seasoning.

What Does The Aji Amarillo Taste Like? 

The aji amarillo pepper is typically described as having a fresh and fruity flavor, some even describe it as slightly grassy. Even though the spice level isn’t too high, having this sweetness helps to balance out the overall level of spice.

It is definitely a “bright” tasting pepper meaning that it doesn’t have a super smokey, deep flavor like you’ll find with some other peppers. This makes it a great choice in fresh dishes like ceviche and salsa where you want the dish to taste light and fresh.

Aji Pepper Substitutes

If you are going to prepare a Peruvian dish and can’t manage to get your hands on this specialty pepper, you will need to use a substitute. The substitute will need to have enough spice to flavor the dish, while also including the sweet and fruity flavor that it is so well known for. Without these qualities, the dish will taste completely different.

Habanero Pepper

The first substitute that you can use in your recipes is the habanero pepper. This pepper is super common and widely available all over the world and can be used as a substitute in several dishes. 

It started out in the Amazonian region of South America, but its cultivation has gradually spread to much of the world. Now, no matter where you are, chances are your grocery store carries habanero peppers.

This variety of pepper is first and foremost known for being extremely spicy. It can have over 300,000 Scoville heat units depending on the exact strain and how mature the pepper is. This means that it will be many times hotter than the aji pepper if used in the exact same quantities. If you’re a spice lover, try it out but if you’re not, you’ll want to exercise caution.

Fortunately, the spice isn’t the reason that habanero frequently makes it to the top of the list when it comes to aji pepper substitutes. Habanero has a fruity and almost citrus-like flavor, frequently making it one of the most popular ingredients in spicy yet sweet dishes. The citrus flavor helps to balance out the insane level of spice that this pepper offers.

Habanero is frequently cooked with fruits like apples and pineapples as a way of complementing the sweetness of the dish with the spice of the pepper. Some people even like to put them together on a type of grilled kabob, it’s a great way to combine the smokiness of grilled food with the spice and sweetness that this combo will offer. 

If you do decide to use habanero pepper as your aji pepper substitute, keep in mind that since it is so much spicier, you’ll want to use much less. You’ll likely need to cut the amount of pepper in half to keep the spice level under control. If even that is too much spice for you, try removing some of the seeds before adding the pepper to your recipe.

Scotch Bonnet Pepper

If you’re looking to kick up the spice of your favorite Peruvian dish while still including that delicious, fruity flavor, the Scotch Bonnet pepper is for you. This pepper is closely related to the habanero pepper and it has the spice to prove it. 

This pepper typically ranges from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units depending on the producer. This means that even the sweetest Scotch Bonnet pepper will be twice as spicy as the spiciest aji pepper. For this reason, it’s only recommended to use this as a substitute if you’re ready for some serious heat.

This pepper has a super fruity flavor, making it an ideal substitute for the aji pepper. However, keep in mind that for this sweet flavor, you’re going to get a lot of spice. You’ll probably only be able to use a fraction of the amount of pepper if you’re trying to keep your spice levels minimal.

You could also remove the seeds before creating the paste or adding it to the recipe. This will help you to reduce the amount of spice that is making its way into your recipe while also making sure that you’re getting plenty of that fruity flavor.

Manzano Chile

If the fruity taste of the aji pepper is one of your favorite parts, you can’t go wrong using the manzano chile as a substitute. This pepper comes from Peru and Bolivia, just like the aji pepper. However, it is now grown in Colombia and its cultivation is gradually spreading throughout the rest of the world.

It is named the manzano chile after the Spanish word for apple, manzana, and this name came from its shape as well as its distinct sweet flavor. It has a decent amount of spice, usually ranging from 12,000 to 30,000 in Scoville heat units, but you wouldn’t guess this from tasting it.

The pepper has so much sweetness that it balances out the spice very nicely, much like the aji pepper. Some people even enjoy the flavor of this pepper so much that they choose to pickle it, allowing them to enjoy it on everything from sandwiches to salads throughout the year.

Since the flavor is so similar, you can use this chile in all of the same ways that you would the aji pepper. Throw it into a ceviche, use your blender to make a salsa, and you can even make a paste to flavor your recipes. 

Just keep in mind that you may need to add a few extra peppers to make your dish as spicy as it would be with aji peppers.

Serrano Pepper

One common pepper that you can use if you can’t get your hands on the region-specific aji pepper is the serrano pepper. This pepper originates from Mexico, specifically from the states of Hidalgo and Puebla where it is used to flavor many of the most popular dishes.

When eaten in its raw form, the serrano pepper has a distinct crisp bite that is very different from the fruitiness of the aji pepper. It is also quite a bit less spicy than the aji pepper with only 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units. Most commonly, people describe it as a pepper that is overall very similar in spice level and flavor to the jalapeno.

However, jalapenos are a pretty bad substitute for the aji pepper, so why is it being included on this list?

The secret to using a serrano pepper as an aji pepper substitute is roasting it. Traditionally, this would be done over a fire or directly on the grid of a gas stove. This will allow the outer layers to char and make the pepper softer.

This process allows the deeper flavors of the pepper to come out and reduces the typical bite that the serrano pepper has in its raw form. Only after it has been roasted will the sweetness come out that a substitute for aji pepper needs. It is best used to make an aji pepper paste substitute where its sweet flavor will truly shine.

Frozen or Dried Aji Pepper

If you are not able to access fresh aji pepper for your recipe, frozen or dried aji pepper will be your next best bet.

Out of the two, frozen aji pepper will have the most similar flavor a fresh aji pepper. This is because frozen fruits and vegetables are typically picked at peak ripeness and then frozen. This allows the flavor to be as authentic as possible while keeping the pepper from going bad throughout the year.

The one issue you may have with this one is that you won’t be able to use it as a fresh aji pepper. Once it is thawed, it won’t have the same crisp texture that a fresh pepper does. This means that while it will be good for flavoring or in cooked dishes like stews, it won’t be good for roughly chopped salsas or ceviche where the texture is important.

Dried aji pepper is another option and you can probably get this one anywhere in the world. However, you may need to order it online depending on where you live. This type of aji pepper will also only be good for flavoring things like soups where the texture of the fresh pepper isn’t important.


Before you make a Peruvian ceviche, you’ll want to make sure that you have aji peppers on hand. These peppers are a trademark of traditional Peruvian food and it’s almost impossible to achieve the same flavor without them. However, there are some cases where you may not be able to get these peppers and you’ll need to use a substitute. 

If you can’t find an aji pepper at your local supermarket, you’ll need to use a substitute. Some of the best substitutes are habanero peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers, manzano chiles, serrano peppers, and frozen or dried aji peppers. All of these will give a spicy, yet sweet flavor to the dish that closely mimics that of the regular aji amarillo pepper.