Cooking With Jalapeño Peppers: The Dos And Don’ts

Jalapeño peppers are without doubt the most common hot pepper in the United States. Their popularity is due to their (relatively) low heat level and the fact that you can find them in just about any grocery store. This is one great entry-level hot pepper. But, like all hot peppers, you need to know what to look for in the kitchen to get the most from the chili. Before cooking with jalapeño peppers, keep these dos and don’ts in mind.

Do wear rubber gloves when working with jalapeño peppers.

While they are far from being the hottest peppers, they are hot enough to cause trouble if you are sensitive to spicy foods. Wear the gloves only when chopping the peppers and remove them immediately after. 

Do reduce the heat of jalapeños by removing the inner membrane that connects the seeds to the walls of the pods.

While it is widely believed that the heat of hot peppers is concentrated in the seeds, the true source of heat is the pale pith that connects them to the rest of the pepper. Get rid of it by slicing the peppers open lengthwise and cutting out the pith and seeds with a paring knife.

Alternatively, you can remove the top of the pepper where the stem is connected to the pod and cut around the seeds and pith. This method allows you to pull them out from the top of the pepper. You can get the seeds out without having the cut the pepper lengthwise. The result is a hollow, seedless pepper that is perfect for stuffing.  

Do leave the membranes in if you want to get as much heat as possible from your jalapeños. 

Just the opposite of above. If you prefer the spiciest possible eating experience, keep the membrane in place.

Do taste jalapeños before adding them to a dish.

While any type of hot pepper can vary in heat from pepper to pepper, jalapeños seem to vary more than others. It’s mainly because at their mildest they border mild peppers like the poblano or Anaheim pepper) while at their hottest they near serrano pepper level heat. They can go from a simmer to a sizzle from one pepper to another. it’s good to know what you have before overloading a dish.

Do store jalapeños correctly.

These chilies do have a reasonably long shelf life in the refrigerator. You should be able to get at least a week out of a fresh batch stored in your crisper drawer. They also handle being frozen very well and can last for months, Note that freezing will change the texture. So when you’re cooking with jalapeño peppers that have been stored, you may want to reserve them for cooked dishes or salsas.

Do learn how to (potentially) tell when a jalapeño is spicy.

Hotter weather and limited watering tend to make hot peppers even hotter — this is true for all chili pepper varieties. Jalapeños that have been exposed to heat and reduced water often develop heat cracks. The presence of these cracks in the outer skin of the pod can indicate a higher level of heat. Other indicators of spiciness include thicker walls — spicier jalapeños are also often very firm (firmer than a bell pepper) and feel heavy for their size.

All this said – these are common tells, but not always 100% accurate.

Do know the flavor difference between ripe (red) and unripe (green) jalapeños.

Ripe red jalapeños are sweeter than the green, unripe ones. They are also often hotter than green jalapeños as they’ve stayed longer on the vine (taking in more capsaicin, the compound that creates the heat). Green jalapeños tend to have a brighter, grassier (sometimes bitter) flavor. Take a look at our red pepper vs. green pepper showdown for more information.

Don’t assume a larger jalapeño means it’s spicier.

It’s an easy assumption to make, but it’s often wrong. There are many varieties of jalapeños, and some hybrids have been bred to be larger and milder. These are often chosen by supermarkets as they make for better popper peppers. Plus, the milder heat appeals to more of a mass audience.

Don’t rub your eyes after cooking with jalapeño peppers.

Even a mild jalapeño may still have enough capsaicin to irritate your eyes. Even if you’ve worn gloves, it’s best to wash your hands thoroughly before touching any area of the face.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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Cheryl Shafron

I have cooked extensively using hot peppers and have grown several kinds. I always buy more than necessary at the grocery store because of the difference in heat. In general, jalapenos are not always hot at the grocers esp. during the winter months. It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized removing the seeds and leaving the membrane would really boost the flavor of a less than spicy jalapeno!
Thank you