Fresno Vs. Jalapeño — How Do They Compare?

Fresno and jalapeño peppers are two medium-sized chilis that often get mistaken for each other. They do have similar appearances, but how alike are they outside of that? Is the Fresno chili hotter than the jalapeño, or vice versa? Is one more popular than the other? Is one easier to find? Let’s compare the two head-to-head.

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Which is hotter, the Fresno or the jalapeño?

Fresnos and jalapeños are both medium-hot chilies, but they both sit at the lower end of medium. Fresno peppers deliver between 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The heat range for jalapeño peppers has the same floor but not quite the range, with 2,500 SHU on the low end and 8,000 SHU at the top.

So really, the difference, based on the numbers, is simply Fresnos can be ever-so-slightly hotter on average. That’s especially true because Fresno peppers are often used when red, meaning they’ve matured fully on the vine. The longer a chili matures (in the process, most turn from green to red), the more capsaicin is in the chili and the hotter it gets. So, with this logic, a green jalapeño will often be much milder than a red Fresno (and a red jalapeño, for that matter.)

Both chilies’ heat is very eatable, making them excellent choices for larger gatherings where heat tolerance can range.

Let’s compare these two chilies by how often they are searched online. Which has more global search popularity? The answer is not surprising.

The jalapeño is much more popular, with roughly 104,000 global searches monthly for “jalapeño” and “jalapeño pepper” combined. The Fresno pepper has around 11,000 global searches monthly.

That’s not to say the Fresno chili isn’t popular — that showing is relatively strong compared to many chilies. It just so happens that the jalapeño is among the most searched chilies on the planet.

How does each pepper taste?

Unripe Fresno peppers have a grassy, savory flavor, but they get sweet and fruity when they are ripe. Unripe jalapenos have a similar grassy, bright flavor as the unripe Fresno peppers, and they, too, become sweeter when mature, just not as sweet as the Fresnos.

How do they differ in shape and colors?

There’s often confusion between these two chilies because jalapeños and Fresnos look pretty alike.

The Fresno chili is typically between 2 and 3 inches long with a diameter of about 1 inch. The fruit is cone-shaped, with the broader end closer to the stem then tapering to a point on the opposite end. Fresnos are also slightly curved. Most Fresno peppers ripen from green to bright red and, as mentioned, are typically sold in their ripe red state.

Jalapeños are also between 2.5 and 3 inches long with about an inch diameter. The jalapeño shape is more uniformly cylindrical as they tend to be roughly the same width from the stem most of the way down to the rounded end. Jalapeños also age from green to red, but they are often sold when green.

Where did each pepper originate?

Fresno peppers were developed by a seed grower and founder of a seed company named Clarence Brown Hamlin. Hamlin released the Fresno chili in 1952 and named it after the city in California. Today, Fresnos are grown throughout California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Jalapeños have been in Central America for thousands of years and were cultivated by the Aztecs. Jalapeños were originally called Cuaresmenos but were later renamed after the city of Xalapa — same as Jalapa — in Veracruz, where they were made popular throughout Mexico and the world. Today, Mexico has more than 70,000 acres dedicated to jalapeño production and continues to be the world’s leading producer.

Which is easier to find fresh?

Jalapeños are the most common chili you’ll find fresh in grocery stores in the United States, so nothing will beat it in terms of availability here. Outside of the U.S., they won’t be as easy to find, but they are still common enough.

Fresh Fresno peppers aren’t nearly as common. In the Southwest and on the West Coast of the United States, you’ll find Fresnos more often than you will on the East Coast. But, some high-end grocery stores have started carrying Fresnos as they are often seen as more gourmet than jalapeños.

Which is used most often in commercial products?

As is the case with fresh chilies, the jalapeño is a juggernaut when it comes to commercial products. It’s available in many forms (flakes, powders, dried, and smoked – as chipotle pepper). And it flavors many products, from hot sauces to potato chips to pickles and mustard.

The Fresno pepper is found in similar products, just nowhere near the same scale. It is popular, particularly, with small-batch hot sauces, given its sweeter flavor (and more gourmet perception in the market.)

  • The Hot Pepper List: These are two of over 150 chilies we profile at PepperScale. Our dynamic list lets you search those chilies by name, heat level, flavor, origin, and more.
  • Our Hot Sauce Rankings: Discover over 100 hot sauces, ranked by flavor, heat balance, usability, and collectibility. Also, search by the chili pepper used!
  • Jalapeño Varieties Are Many, And All Delicious! Discover some of. the many types of jalapeños that are available today on the market.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 23, 2022 to include new content.
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