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Tamarillo or tree tomato aji hot sauce {Ecuadorian ají de tomate de árbol}

Recipe for Ecuadorian ají de tomate de árbol, a mild hot sauce made with tamarillo or tree tomato fruits, hot peppers (called ajíes), onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and water or oil.

Ecuadorian aji hot sauce recipe

En Español 

Tamarillo or tree tomato aji hot sauce, called ají de tomate de árbol in Ecuador,  is a very tasty hot sauce made from tree tomatoes or tamarillos, hot peppers, onion, cilantro and lime juice. A tree tomato or tomate de arbol, also known as tamarillo, is a South American fruit that looks somewhat like a roma tomato, but pointier and with a thicker skin. 

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Ecuadorian tamarillo or tree tomato hot sauce

Tree tomatoes can be either yellow orangish or dark red depending on the variety, the inside of the fruit will be either orange, dark red or almost purple. They can be eaten just plain, but make sure they are very ripe if eating them plain – they are very tart. Tamarillos or tree tomatoes are used frequently in juices and in desserts (cooked in a panela or sugar cane syrup with cinnamon, clove and other spices). One of the most well known way to use them is to make this aji or hot sauce, which is usually mild to medium spicy, and is served with a lot of different Ecuadorian dishes.

This tamarillo hot sauce is a must-have for green plantain empanadas (or any empanadas), yuca bread, plantain chips, tamales, humitas (a fresh corn tamale) and goes great with potatoes, fish and meat, basically with almost anything.

Aji de tomate de arbol or tree tomato hot sauce

It is very hard to find tree tomatoes in the US, most of the time when you find them they come from New Zealand (so please send us more). In Austin I was able to find them at Fiesta and also occasionally at Central Market. I’ve seen tree tomatoes or tamarillos only a few times in Seattle, once at QFC (U-District) and at Uwajimaya. I asked once at Pike Place Market and was told that several years ago an attempt to introduce them into Seattle was made but it wasn’t successful.

You can find the tree tomato pulp frozen and it works well for juice but doesn’t do too well for this hot sauce (but it’s better than nothing if you have a craving), however sometimes you can find the actual fruits frozen at the Latin grocery stores,  then the hot sauce is almost as good as when made with the fresh fruit.

Tamarillo or tree tomato fruits in Ecuador

This is the basic recipe for tree tomato aji, in some places in Ecuador – especially in Quito – it is very common to add chochos (lupini beans) to this aji, so if you have some on hand feel free to add them. I also love the Cuencano version of tree tomato aji, it’s very smooth and creamy since they blend it with some oil.

Ecuadorian tamarillo or tree tomato hot sauce

Tamarillo or tree tomato ají hot sauce / Ecuadorian ají de tomate de árbol

Tamarillo or tree tomato aji hot sauce is a very tasty hot sauce made from tree tomatoes or tamarillos, hot peppers, onion, cilantro and lime juice.
4.81 from 151 votes
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Course: Salsa, Sauce
Cuisine: Ecuadorian, Latin, South American
Keyword: Aji, Aji sauce, Ecuadorian aji sauce, Tamarillo, Tomate de arbol, Tree tomato
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1 to 1 1/2 cups of tamarillo or tree tomato aji


  • 4-5 tree tomatoes fresh or frozen
  • 2 ajies or hot peppers serranos or red chilies are good options, habaneros if you are very brave
  • 2 tbs finely chopped white onion
  • 1 tbs finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbs lime or lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • Optional – Add cooked and peeled chochos or lupini beans


  • If using fresh tree tomatoes peel them, boil them for about 5 minutes to make it easier to peel them.
  • If using frozen tree tomatoes, defrost them over night in the fridge, then cut them in half and scoop out all the insides.
  • Blend the tree tomatoes with the hot peppers (seeded and deveined if you want it very mild, you can always save a few seeds and add them in if it’s too mild).
  • Transfer the blended mix of tree tomatoes and hot peppers to a small sauce pan, add the water (you can add more if you want a more liquid sauce) and cook on medium heat for about 5-8 minutes. You can also omit the cooking part, the sauce will be fresher, but will need to be consumed faster.
  • Add the onion, lime juice, cilantro, chochos (if adding), and salt to taste.
  • Serve warm or cold.


Replace water with oil (avocado, light olive oil, or a mild flavored oil) for a creamier Cuencano style aji (and do not cook it after blending).
Tamarillos or tree tomatoes
Tamarillos or tree tomatoes, also known as tomate de arbol
Frozen tree tomato
Making tree tomato or tamarillo aji hot sauce
Tree tomato aji
Tamarillo or tree tomato aji hot sauce

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  1. Me gusta mucho el aji de tomate de arbol, pero con pedacitos de remolacha, sabe delucioso tambien. Yo soy the Santo Domingo de los Colorados. Ecuador.

    1. como incorporas la remolacha? la pones crudo en la batidora o la añades al final? me fascina esta idea!

  2. Could this recipe be canned? If so, do you think I should add vinegar or more lemon juice? Thanks!

    1. Hi Cecilia – I’ve never canned it and am not much of an expert on canning so I don’t know. I’ll check the ones that they sell canned or in jars here in Ecuador and see if they have vinegar or lemon juice on the ingredient list.

  3. We found some tomate de arbol today in Oxford (England) and made Aji following your recipe, which turned out DELICIOUS!
    Laylita, you are the best. Thanks for keeping up this website.

  4. Hi Zaic,
    In Chicago, you can find frozen tomate de arbol at a little store called El Condor, on Milwaukee Avenue. They also sell dried “chochos,” tostado, etc.

  5. I was on holiday in Quito this summer and fell in love with ají and jugo de tomate de árbol. I was wondering if anyone knew where I could find tomate de árbol around Chicago or what I can use to substitute them (at least when making ají). It would go great with the thanksgiving turkey. :)

  6. We retired to Ecuador this past year. As a lover of hot spicy food I have become quite addicted to Aji. We live north of Ibarra (north of Quito) and the farmers here grow the tomato trees everywhere. The plants however, if you are not familiar with them, get to be quite large (I guess that is why they are called trees). Most of the tomato trees I have seen range from about 7 to 8 feet tall. If you like, I can look for seeds in or near the market or when I begin to get tomatoes from my three trees, I can save and dry some of the seeds and try to send them to you. Ecuador has very strict laws about importing seeds. I don’t know about exporting? Most people who live here bring seeds with them when they return from the states or have someone that is visiting bring seeds. I typically try to get heirloom seeds so I can save and replant the different vegetables that I like.

    1. Phil, just saw that you might be able to send a few seeds of tomate de arbol. I woukd love a few. I lived in Zuleta, so do you live toward or in Tulcan? You retired to a wonderful place!!

  7. To all the people who comment on this recipe: Can u please let me know if you know an online store where i could either the fruit or the seeds. I live in Oklahoma state and it’s very difficult to get some of the ingredients to cook my dishes (Ecuador). I would appreciate if you reply to me. Thanks a lot.

  8. Hi Laylita,

    I attended IACP last week in Austin, TX, and came into 6 tomates de arbol courtesy of Melissa’s Produce based in LA. They were exhibiting at the trade show and gave me a box of their goodies since I live in Austin and they didn’t want the produce to go to waste. (What a box it was—quince, papaya, baby pineapple, mangos, passionfruit, prickly pear, the list goes on! )

    Anyway, I had no clue what to do with the tomates de arbol and stumbled across your site. I made the salsa tonight, and it was DELISH! Boyfriend loved it, too. I’m stewing some chicken thighs tomorrow and only wish I had more so I could try them in that. Thanks for the great recipe.


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