Spicing Things up with Llajua (Bolivian Hot Sauce): Bolivian Food, Recipes and Ingredients

by BoliviaBella
(Santa Cruz, Bolivia)

It seems that every country in South America has its own special version of hot sauce, and while many recipes use similar ingredients, each country's hot sauce recipe is unique in some way. Each boasts that one special ingredient that makes a sauce unique to each region. Bolivia's version of all-around, use-it-on-everything hot sauce that must be on the table with every meal, is llajua (pronounced YA-hoo-uh). Llajua means "hot sauce" in the Quechua language (Western Bolivia).

Llajua is a thick sauce made from raw ingredients that ranges in color from pinkish to deep red, with green flecks, depending on the amounts of each ingredient used. Llajua, being an uncooked sauce, is usually served at room temperature and is used on both hot or cold foods. And while it is a tomato-based sauce, it does not have a strong tomato flavor, and can be used on a wide range of foods including steak or chicken, soup, or simply spread over bread and butter, like a jam.

Unlike cooked or fully blended red hot sauces (such as Louisiana's Tabasco sauce or Mexico's Cholula or Tapatío sauces) which are very runny and typically served in bottles, llajua is thick and rather chunky. In texture, it is more similar to the salsa served in American restaurants (like Chili's or TGI Friday's) to be eaten with tortilla chips, although it is not quite as chunky or tomato-y and does have some different ingredients.

Llajua is generally served in a small bowl with a serving spoon. This is important because llajua must always be politely scooped onto one's plate or into one's soup. It is not acceptable to "dunk" one's food into the bowl of llajua, which will be shared by all who are at the table. Bolivia's don't typically eat off of each other's plates, drink from another person's glass, dunk things into the same sauce, or in any other way share spittle.

Llajua uses very hot peppers, so it's always a good idea to test the llajua (after you've scooped some onto the side of your plate) before you pour or spread it all over your food. The following is an easy recipe for mild llajua. You can adjust the heat (degree of spiciness) of llajua by using fewer tomatoes and more hot peppers for a hot llajua, or vice versa for a milder version.


2 ripe tomatoes
1 green locoto pepper
1 teaspoon of fresh chopped quirquiña
1 teaspoon of olive oil
Salt to taste

A couple of notes on these ingredients:

1) Use large juicy tomatoes such a Better Boy, Early Girl or Beefsteak tomatoes. Smaller drier tomatoes (such as cherry tomatoes or Roma tomatoes will not do).

2) The closest thing to a locoto pepper in the US is a serrano pepper (found in grocery stores that stock Mexican foods). Locotos can be found in green, yellow and red. The green are the mildest, the yellow and red are the hottest.

3) Quirquiña is an herb that is very flavorful and aromatic. If you cannot find quirquiña (sometimes spelled quillquiña) you can use cilantro instead, but the flavor will not be the same. The scientific name for quirquiña is Porophyllum ruderale. And while it is sometimes referred to as "Bolivian coriander" it is not coriander and tastes completely different.


The tomatoes, hot pepper and quirquiña must all be ground together using a pestle and mortar. Bolivians always make their llajua by hand in this way because blenders simply won't do. Blenders will either create a sauce that is too runny, or will not blend the pepper pieces well. Blenders also tend to cause your sauce to foam. And simply chopping these ingredients together will also not do. We are not trying to make a salsa with large chunks. We need to break the ingredients down without completely liquefying them.

Once you've ground your salsa by hand, you can stir in the oil, then salt to taste. Serve in a bowl and provide a small scoop or spoon.

Remember, your llajua will not taste excessively tomato-y and will not add a strong tomato flavor to any type of food. Serve in/on steak, chicken, pork, potatoes, sandwiches, and soup or simply spread your llumy llajua on buttered bread.


1) Toast your locoto peppers in a dry pan until the peeling begins to turn black. Do not remove the "burnt" peeling pieces. Grind as is. This will add a slightly smokey flavor to your llajua.

2) For an even milder llajua, slice the locoto pepper in half lengthwise and remove the seeds before grinding. The seeds are very spicy! Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after doing so as locoto peppers are highly acidic and can cause thinner portions of your skin (near the eyes, for example) to swell or burn if you touch them with pepper juice on your hands.

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Bolivian Food.