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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. Hola Laylita:

    Thank you so much for this. I used to live in Ecuador, and it’s wonderful to have some of the flavours again. I’ve just done a batch of the cooked sauce. How long do you think it will last in a jar in the refrigerator?

  2. Hi Laylita- I live in Berkeley California (Across the bay from San Francisco). An exotic plant lover neighbor gave me two seedlings last fall. Last week I harvested about 20 tamarillos. I’m making the salsa today. If any of your readers live in a relatively mild climate (with no frosts), they can go the trees. Mine grew to about 10 ft tall (3.5 meters). It was fun to watch them develop. Quite a curiosity. I needed to prop them up with poles to help them in the winter winds. People walking by could see them peeking over the fence from the backyard. What are those???

  3. Hi Laylita! I want Ecuadorian empanadas so bad that I spent nearly $70 on frozen pulp! My sister lived in Quito for 30 years and I would visit often. There was a popular restaurant that delivered empanadas. I ordered so often and so many my family finally said ‘no more’ lol. The most beautiful country! . Please send me a recipe for using the pulp for the aji! I will be forever grateful! I will make the 150 mile trek to downtown Los Angeles next time. Thank you so much, Rebecca

    1. Hi Rebecca – To make it using the frozen pulp, I defrost the pulp and then put it in the blender with hot peppers*, for extra spicy maybe an habanero (remove the seeds and veins) and for a more mild version you can use red fresno peppers. For a 14-16 oz pack of frozen pulp I like to use a mix of 1-2 habaneros (with no veins/seeds) and 2 red fresno peppers. In the blender, in addition to the tree tomato pulp and the hot peppers, I also add some lime juice, just a squeeze and then adjust later, some avocado oil (3-4 tablespoons), and salt. Blend it well and then taste and adjust the amount of lime juice, salt, oil (the oil helps thicken it and give it a nice smooth texture), hot peppers. Blend again and taste. Once the balance of flavors is to your liking I put in a bowl and add in finely chopped cilantro and chopped scallions. Sometimes I add a few cebollas encurtidas or lime pickled red onions, and for the Quito variations some chochos (if you have them).
      *If you can find the Peruvian aji amarillo peppers, they sometimes have them frozen or in jars, these are very close in flavor and spice level to the Ecuadorian aji peppers. I like to boil them for ~10 minutes or until the skins start to peel, then remove the skins, veins and seeds. They give the sauce an amazing flavor and texture. I would use about 5-6 for the 14-16 oz pack of tree tomato pulp.
      I made a video of this process a while ago, but haven’t gotten around to editing it yet, hopefully I’ll add it soon.

  4. Living in Ecuador, and trying to learn how to cook Ecuadorian food was a challenge. Thank you so much for making my life easier with your delicious recipes

    1. You are soooo lucky. I was in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and should have stayed. Lived in Chone and in Zuleta. I wish I was back. The people are very empathetic, muy amable. Carol Bee

  5. This sounds amazing and as soon as the tamarillos come into season I am going to try it! Tamarillos also are great in a shortcake (you do need to sprinkle sugar on them), in chutneys, all sorts of things But personally, my favourite is skinned and sliced on toast sprinkled with salt pepper and sugar. If you blanch the tamarillo slice it and put the salt, pepper and sugar on it the night before it is even better :) AND you get to slurp the juice of the plate in the morning!!

  6. Laylita, I live in Tampa FL, I can’t find tomate de arbol anywhere. Do you know where I can find it, maybe online? I find only the ones in a syrup in a jar from Amigos.com. I love ahi, when I go to Ecuador I eat alot of it. I can’t wait until my husband goes next year, thats too long..lol. Thanks.

    Hi Dawn – Are there any Latin grocery stores or even Asian grocery stores that might have them? They do seem to be seasonal, so might not be available year round. I don’t live in that area, but maybe another reader who does can help?
    Also, you can use the frozen concentrate to make the aji sauce.

    1. Call or go to the famous and very old Spanish restuarant in Tampa, downtown. They could probably direct you to where you could find tamarillo.

  7. This sauce is so good. You can put it on pretty much anything and it will taste good. Here in Ecuador I can buy about 18 tree tomatoes for $1. Back in Ohio a dollar something each.

  8. Thanks so much for this recipe! I am a Canadian in Ecuador, and I have tree tomatos growing, but didn’t know what to do with them. I love this recipe, and now I’ll be able to build on this recipe and play with the flavours a bit. I would be interested in hearing if anyone has had any experience growing these in northern climes, indoors or outdoors, and getting fruit?

    1. Hi Deena – I believe someone commented or emailed me that they grown them in Oregon, and back when I lived in Austin I was able to get a small plant started, but that’s as far as it got. I remember that in Ecuador I was told that they needed a certain amount of altitude in order to do well, but they’re also sensitive to freezes.

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