Latin American cuisine has a lot of unique ingredients at its disposal, each with its flavors and uses that set them apart from other foods around the world, with very few one-to-one alternatives out there.
Aji Amarillo paste is one such spice. An aromatic Latin American spice, that provides plenty of kick when it comes to both spice and flavor, Aji Amarillo is an indispensable ingredient to have when in the kitchen.
But what about when you don’t have any in the kitchen, and need it for a recipe? OR perhaps, there is an aspect of Aji Amarillo paste that you do like, but want to find an ingredient with less heat to it.
Well, that’s where this guide comes into the mix.
Here, we’ll not only share with you a list of our favorite and most effective substitutes for Aji Amarillo but also the key qualities that many chefs like Aji Amarillo for.
That way, you’ll be able to search for similar spices in your own time.
Aji Amarillo Paste: What Is It?
Given that it’s a spice that is pretty exclusively used in Latin and Central American cuisine, there’s a decent chance that you may not have even heard of Aji Amarillo paste.
Or at least, not being aware of what it is.
Aji Amarillo, as we’ve already mentioned, usually comes in a bright orange/yellow colored paste.
Thai paste is made by blending chili peppers (usually the Aji Amarillo pepper or chiles) with garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and salt.
This creates a paste that is both sweet, and quite hot, depending on the types of chili peppers that were used, but also means that it can be quite versatile when it comes to adding it to a recipe.
However, finding this paste in this form outside of its original home regions of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, is still pretty difficult.
So unless you’re prepared to make this blend for yourself (which is an option, if you have the key ingredients), you’ll probably find these substitutes easier to find than Aji Amarillo paste itself.
1. Chipotle Peppers
We’ll start this substitute guide off with an option that should be readily available to many of us.
Chipotle peppers are some of the most popular peppers in the world, whether they’re being cooked fresh, dried, and preserved, or added to oils and pastes.
Chipotle peppers, as you can probably tell, are a very versatile cooking ingredient, making them suitable for all kinds of cooking.
Their smoky flavor gives them a noticeably different flavor to Aji Amarillo paste, but it does make for a pretty good complement if you’re looking for a smoked ham or bacon-like flavor.
In terms of their overall heat, they’re also some of the mildest chilies out there, maxing out at 10,000 on the Scoville scale at most.
Great for milder palates that may not be able to handle the heat of a full helping of Aji Amarillo.
In short, while their flavor is pretty different in many ways, you’ll find that chipotle peppers can be used in many of the same recipes as Aji Amarillo, so don’t discount it.
2. Sumac Paste
One of the things that make Aji Amarillo such a sought-after paste is its combination of both spice and citrus flavors. That last element is something that Sumac paste can replicate very well, fortunately.
Made traditionally from dried sumac plants, and using ash as a binding agent, sumac paste can be found in both a wet and dry form.
It’s a traditional spice that is regularly used in Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cooking, where it makes an effective sour spice with pitta bread, curries, and stews.
While it is traditionally used in recipes that are quite different from the ones that Aji Amarillo is used in, the lemon-like citrus flavor that this paste gives its food is pretty similar to the former.
Plus, sumac paste can often be found in places where Aji Amarillo can’t be, so you may have an easier time finding this than other substitutes.
3. Roasted Poblano Peppers
One of the most common chili peppers to use in Mexican cuisine roasted Poblano Peppers are an abundant pepper to use in cooking recipes, making them very appetizing as a substitute for Aji Amarillo paste when you can’t find any of the latter.
Roasted Poblano pepper has a smoky flavor to them that has hints of sweetness to it.
So, while not a perfect one-to-one comparison, they do make for a pretty good approximation for Aji Amarillo in a pinch.
Plus, they’re also a lot milder when it comes to heat, at just a few thousand on the Scoville rating system.
They’re not a perfect replacement for our paste of choice, but you can do a lot worse than roasted Poblano peppers!
4. Dried Or Frozen Aji Amarillo Chiles
If you’re looking for a replacement for Aji Amarillo paste, then why not consider the original pepper that the paste came from?
Aji Amarillo chiles are pretty native chilies to South America, especially around Ecuador and the northern side of the continent.
Being the source of a lot of the flavor for Aji Amarillo paste, you can expect there to be a lot of similarities between them.
They generally have a similar sweeter flavor and are a much spicier chili than other alternatives that we have covered, coming in between 30,000 and 50,000 on the Scoville scale.
However, you won’t get the same sourness from the raw or dried Aji Amarillo chili as you do the paste, as you’ll be lacking the cilantro and lime juice ingredients.
Plus, this is still a pretty rare chili outside of South America, so it may not be much easier to get a hold of than the paste version.
5. Turmeric Paste
Possibly one of the most widely used spices in the world, turmeric has become a cornerstone of any cook’s spice rack, and with good reason.
This distinct herb has both a strong color, as well a very powerful herbal flavor to it, and has made it a cornerstone of Indian and other South Asian cuisines.
That herbal flavor makes it a decent substitute for cilantro, and therefore, Aji Amarillo paste as a result!
Plus, as we said, this is one of the easiest spices to get a hold of in the world, with most stores and supermarkets selling at least one variety of turmeric paste or powder. So finding it won’t be an issue!
Turmeric does not have the same level of heat to it. We’re hesitant to even consider it a hot spice. Still, it’s a flavorful substitute that will your cooking needs well in a pinch!
6. Scotch Bonnet Peppers
Now, if you’re looking for a substitute with heat to it, then scotch bonnet peppers are the way to go!
Similar in flavor, and very easy to find, we recommend being careful with this substitute. At over 100,000 on the Scoville scale, it is by far the hottest pepper in this guide!
7. Serrano Pepper
To round out this list with another chili pepper variety, we’re big fans of serrano peppers here, both on their own, and how they can make a mean Aji Amarillo substitute.
Serrano peppers occupy the lower end of the Scoville scale, at around 5,000 to 10,000, perfect for more sensitive mouths and stomachs.
The serrano pepper has a herbal, almost citrus flavor to it when bitten into or added to a mix/paste, so it’s a pretty good substitute in terms of flavor as well, if a little weaker in overall flavor.
Plus, serrano peppers, while not the most popular variety, can be found and grown in areas where Aji Amarillo might be difficult to source for your recipe needs.
A strong closing substitute, for sure!
So, with all of these substitutes laid out in front of you, we have just one question left:
Which one will be your spice of choice?