Tip: How to Check for the Hotness of Jalapeños

How hot is that jalapeño? Here's a tip to help gauge the level of heat before you buy or pick the pepper.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

As they age, some peppers develop white lines and flecks, like stretch marks running in the direction of the length of the pepper. The stretch marks are also indicative of the amount of stress the pepper plant has endured.

A pepper plant that is stressed, having the soil get dry between infrequent waterings, appears to have an impact on the the hotness of the pepper.

The older the pepper, and the more stress the plant has been under, the more white lines you’ll see, and the hotter the pepper will be.

The smoother the pepper, the younger, less stressed, and milder it is.

Left on the plant (and even after picked) green jalapeños will eventually turn red. So red jalapeños are older than green jalapeños. The red ones can be pretty hot, especially if they have a lot of striations, but they are also sweeter than the green.

Jalapeno Hotness

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. Make sure to taste test a chili before using it in a recipe!

The best way to taste test?

Capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat, is concentrated around the seeds and in the ribs. The flesh of the chile that is closer to the seeds will be hotter than the flesh near the tip.

So the best way to taste a potentially hot chili is to cut off a small piece at the tip and have a nibble (you’ll have less chance of burning your tongue if the chili is really hot).

For cooking, if you want to lower the heat of the chiles, cut the peppers in half, scrape out and discard the seeds and inner ribs (use gloves and don’t touch your eyes). If you want more heat, just add back some seeds with the rest of the jalapeño.

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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No ImageTip: How to Check for the Hotness of Jalapeños

  1. Charles

    Mostly a good guide except for one flaw: The heat of a pepper is in the fleshy membrance, not in the seeds (old myth). While the seeds do have some heat to them, if you core a Jalapeno and want to re-introduce heat, add some of the membrance, this will be far more effective than adding seeds back in.

  2. Raymond

    This is a very good guide, and accurate. I grow jalapeños and find that even one plant can differ greatly in the intensity and heat/sweet flavor. Seasonal harvest plays a role as fast growing peppers pucked in the summer will be less scorching than slower growing peppers picked in the early fall.

  3. jeff

    I also find the shape gives a hint to the heat level, a straight chili with a round tip will be milder than a strait chili with a pointed tip. A curved chili will be hotter, the more of a curve the hotter.

  4. Charles

    I haven’t tried your jelly recipe yet. We plan to make the jelly in the next day or two. I do make a jalapeño relish and I have put it on everything but ice cream. I have a high tolerance for caliente. I was making up a new batch of relish and bought the peppers at Walmart. Walmart usually has what I call gringo peppers that are mild, I always get a couple of the serrano peppers that are hot mommas in case I need to spice up my relish. So Walmart had this bin full of big smooth, shiny jalapeños, the kind that would make good poppers. When I got home I did the taste test and they were hot. They were too hot. After I made the relish it was like Brylcream. A little dab was too much. The relish was so hot that the heat blocked out the flavor. I only make a quart at a time since I am the only one that eats it. I am going to dilute it with some pimento bell pepper. Your method for checking for heat usually works but as you said, it’s no guarantee.

  5. Pamela

    I grow my own peppers and the regular jalapenos are mild. The jumbo jalapeno plant, they are hot.

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Jalapeno HotnessTip: How to Check for the Hotness of Jalapeños