Peruvian Aji Amarillo, the Yellow Chili—Put Soul Into Your Cooked or Raw Foods!

Friday Aug 1 | BY |
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Yellow Chili

Natural foods by themselves tend to be flavorless.
Why not add flame, flavor, and soul to your vegetarian and vegan cooking?

Salsa Recipe Below!

Every land has its traditional foods and local flavors. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we travel? That’s certainly why programs by adventure chef Anthony Bourdain are so popular—it’s about parts unknown, the unusual dishes enjoyed in little-known subcultures, and the foods eaten in these exotic places. We want to experience other things and taste new foods.

But natural foods by themselves tend to be flavorless. And some, like eggplant or turnips, might be considered bordering on unpalatable. So, traditional people across the world found a fix for food.

Spices Give Life To Food

Spices and peppers are what give food zest. Italians simmer tomatoes into a concentrated highly flavored puree to create pasta sauce: the cure for the otherwise bland wheat noodle. Tomatoes matter, but it’s the garlic, onion, and oregano that create the magic in classical Italian cooking.

Sichuan food is noted for its intensely hot brilliant red chilies that light up any bland tofu dish. What is Mexican food without jalapenos? Turmeric, the yellow spice that heats up Indian food, nearly jumps off the table with its intense flavor turning bland Basmati rice into a dish that balances the intense spices of Indian cuisine.

Aji Amarillo: The Soul of Peruvian Cuisine

I’m writing this blog from Peru, a country where I’ve lived off and on for nearly twenty years. Peru is noted for its complex cuisine of native foods, seafood and fish, exotic super foods, and unique family of chili peppers used to flavor traditional dishes.

Water Shrimp Chowder 2

The soul of Peruvian cuisine is the yellow chili, or aji amarillo. It’s not well known in the United States, and Peruvian food is only available at restaurants in large metropolitan cities with diverse Latino populations like Miami, so most Americans haven’t experienced the nuances of what makes Peruvian food the leader in Latin American cuisine.

Peruvian cuisine is also a prime example of the new world diet that includes fresh fish, lots of plants, and little meat, but is high on chilies. Potatoes, the main starch of the Andes, come alive with Peruvian peppers. Plain white river or ocean fish become delicacies with the right amount of aji amarillo sauce.

Capsicum baccatum is the most common hot pepper cultivated and consumed in Peru. It’s shaped somewhat like a banana and grows to about three to five inches long, though it can get longer, making it a relatively big chili pepper. It starts green, but when mature, its color is an eye-popping orange.

As far as chili peppers go, aji amarillo is hot. It gets up to 50,000 on the Scoville scale (SHU), but not at all scorching in comparison to the chilies used in Indian cooking that can be as high as 850,000 SHU. In comparison, jalapenos are 2,500 to 8,000 SHU, and bell peppers are 0 SHU. But the unique smoky-fruity flavor doesn’t overpower food, as do the super hot peppers used in Thai or Indian cooking.

PeppersAji amarillo is ancient. The more than 2,000-year-old Moche culture of the north coast of Peru often represented fruits and vegetables in their art, including ají amarillo peppers. The Incas used them, and in the Andes they’re still commonly found in all open markers. Quechua speaking natives call it uchu. Aji amarillo is widely cultivated in Peru. No fresh market is without reams of yellow chilies draping from hooks in stalls of other vegetables.

Health Benefits of the Yellow Chili Pepper

You won’t find much about this Peruvian superfood on the Internet. It’s not as well known as jalapeno, chipotle, or New Mexican Hatch chilies. And, it’s hasn’t been as well studied as other hot peppers. However, aji amarillo belongs to a large family of chilies, many of which have been studied for their health benefits, so we can infer that aji amarillo has similar properties.

Health benefits of hot chilies include:

  • thermogenic properties that boost metabolism
  • anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, pain reducing, and anti-diabetic properties
  • help reduce LDL cholesterol levels in obese individuals
  • support weight loss
  • high in antioxidants and flavonoids including ß-carotene, ?-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin
  • amazingly high in vitamin C, with 100 grams providing as much as 240% of the daily requirement

Aji amarillo is available in Latin American markets, mostly in canned paste form, or dried. The paste, which is made from boiled and blended fresh aji amarillo, is ready to use straight from the jar. Or, you can make your own, as I do.

Flavor Matters

When we eat, most people want tasty, richly flavored foods. In countries where raw greens are prized, as in France, even salads start with tangy lettuces or similar greens like arugula, then are dressed with olive oil, fresh garlic, aged vinegars or fresh limes, herbs and spices.

So why do Americans prefer bland foods? Salt and pepper are about the only flavor enhancer allowed on an American table. Perhaps it’s our Puritan heritage that warns against foods that jolt the taste buds because we might feel too alive. How could we possibly get any work done if all we wanted to do is dance and sing, and be happy like Mexicans who eat spicy foods? I don’t know about you, but I like to be happy. I enjoy flavorful and spicy foods, and I get a lot done.

When we learned that processed American foods are making us sick, we went natural. But our natural foods remained just as bland as the typical American diet. Could that be one of the reasons why natural foods haven’t caught on more in some parts of the country?

Why not spice up your vegetarian dishes? Why not add flame, flavor, and soul to your vegetarian and vegan cooking with aji amarillo and other chilies?


Uchucuta—Peruvian Salsa Recipe

  • 1 raw aji amarillo
  • 2 fresh limes
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil

Chop the pepper into fine pieces, or put in food processor. Leave the seeds out if you prefer less pungent salsas. Squeeze in fresh limejuice, add a dash of sea salt or pink Himalayan salt. Mix or flash blend. For added flavor, add garden spices like oregano and a little cold pressed organic olive oil. Enjoy!

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. June Hanson says:

    Oh, I, am with You! Tired of bland foods. Need some spice in life. Seeing , you, get so much done. Eat some more aji. Need a cook, your hired! Maybe you’ll fix me some aji salsa, which will light up my life. Like you, I want to learn to dance, along with laughter, which is such a big part of me.

    Fighting horrendous stress, trying to kill me. Know, when you come back, I, will, get well .,, Have great faith in You and God. Looking forward to a healthy, active and happy life. June

  2. Olivia says:

    I enjoyed reading your article, thank you!
    I have always added herbs, spices and hot peppers to my food … For sure it is one of the secrets to my health and JOY! 🙂

  3. Anna says:

    Will these peppers kill parasites? And how can you get them? Thank you.

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