Tip: How to Check for the Hotness of Jalapenos

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Ever take home a jalapeño chile pepper from the grocery store and have it either be so lacking in heat it may just as well be a bell pepper, or so hot a speck will create a raging inferno in your mouth? Here’s a quick tip for choosing jalapeños that can help you decide which ones to pick. Jalapeño chilies progressively get hotter the older they get, eventually turning bright red. As they age, they develop white lines and flecks, like stretch marks running in the direction of the length of the pepper. The smoother the pepper, the younger, and milder it is. The more white lines, the older and hotter. Red jalapeños can be pretty hot, if they have a lot of striations, but they are also sweeter.

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If you are trying to avoid the hottest jalapeños (say for a stuffed jalapeno dish), pick the chiles without any striations. If you are looking for heat, find a red or green one with plenty of white stretch marks.

Note that this is just a guideline. There is still plenty of variation among individual peppers. You can find hotter-than-Hades peppers without any white lines. But your chances of picking a mild one are better if you go for smooth. Or if you are looking for heat, you will more likely find that in a pepper with lots of lines.

Update:

I would like to clarify here that this tip is based on absolutely NO scientific evidence. I was complaining to a Mexican chef friend of mine one day that I kept on buying jalapeños with no flavor and no heat, and he pointed out to me that I should look for peppers with a few striations (but not too many). I have seen this approach mentioned by others (online), but who knows what is really going on? I do know that they are developing much milder variety of jalapeños these days. I also know that the capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat, is concentrated in the seeds and ribs. The flesh of the chile that is closer to the seeds will be hotter than the flesh near the tip. This is established fact. Perhaps chiles that are more mature have more of their capsaicin distributed throughout their flesh than the younger ones? Perhaps hotter varieties of jalapeños develop striations and milder ones do not. I have never eaten a mild striated jalapeño. But several times I have bought perfectly smooth, beautiful jalapeños only to be disappointed in their complete lack of flavor and punch.

So, please take this tip with a grain of salt. Since using this approach I have not encountered a dull jalapeno. But as I said, I don’t really understand the how’s and why’s of it, and am only taking guesses at what might be going on.

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Showing 4 of 89 Comments

  • Judith Greenblatt

    The Pioneer Woman goes by the above theory. I purchased some peppers recently at the Farmers Market and it was true.

  • will

    My freind says if you hollow out a jalopena and take out the seeds and veins it leaves the pepper with no heat. I have never heard this and don’t believe it
    Can someone help

  • Mike

    My experience in over 50 years in New Mexico generally supports what is described here…and as stated, it’s a general guideline with variations. One point I would disagree on…there is nothing about the seeds unto themselves that is hot. Seeds get their heat from the flesh that holds them. That flesh is where there is a high concentration of capsicum. The seeds are covered with the oil, which is what makes the seeds hot. If you want hotter peppers, leave in the seed pods and the veins. That’s where the heat is.

  • Mark

    It’s early in the morning, too early to start moving around and waking people up. So here I am again.

    Let’s say you haven’t found mama bear yet, the pepper that’s just right. You have found baby bear, a pepper that’s too mild. What do you do when you bite into papa bear, a pepper that’s way too hot?

    Dairy, alcohol or olive oil is best to turn off the burner in your mouth, in that order.

    My choice for dairy would be sour cream.
    If you’re already in a Mexican restaurant, for alcohol, try a shot of tequila. Seems appropriate. Even if it doesn’t work, you will no longer care.

    Water, beer or soda are to be avoided. Water only makes things worse but maybe you already know that?

  • Mark

    I googled this and there doesn’t seem to be a true consensus. For as many people that look for the brown lines, there are just as many that say it ain’t so.
    A few people suggested substituting serranos for jalapenos. They say they are hotter and taste better.
    In Mexico, it seems like they always dry their peppers. I have a big bag of dried chilis. I think they are anchos. They are hot enough for me. I ground up a bunch and use them in place of the usual red chili flakes.

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