What are jalapeño peppers?
Even those relatively new to hot peppers know of jalapeño peppers, but what’s interesting is the overall reputation this hot pepper has. Many people think of the jalapeño as a very spicy hot pepper, but in terms of the Scoville scale, it is merely mild to moderate. Jalapeño peppers have a Scoville heat unit range of 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). That’s mighty low compared to the hottest peppers in the world, some of which top the 1,000,000 SHU mark on the pepper scale. It’s also much milder than that cayenne pepper you have sitting on your spice rack (30,000 to 50,000 SHU).
But most of those hotter peppers never find their way to normal grocery store shelves. There, the jalapeño is king, and its spiciness is far more than much that you’ll find there. Its bright, grassy flavor, too, makes the jalapeño very versatile in the kitchen – perfect for everything from salads to stuffed peppers.
Table of Contents
- What are jalapeño peppers?
- Jalapeño pepper fast facts
- Where do these chilies come from?
- How hot are jalapeño peppers?
- What do jalapeño peppers taste like?
- What do they look like?
- What is a good jalapeño substitute?
- What are some good jalapeño uses?
- Cooking with jalapeños
- Some of our favorite jalapeño recipes
- Growing jalapeños
- Where can you buy jalapeño peppers?
- Must-read related posts
Jalapeño pepper fast facts
|Scoville heat units (SHU)||2,500 – 8,000|
|Median heat (SHU)||5,250|
|Jalapeño reference point||N/A|
|Size||2.5 to 3 inches long, pod-like|
|Flavor||Bright, Grassy, Bitter|
Where do these chilies come from?
The pepper originated in Mexico. Over 160 square kilometers of land are still dedicated to the growing of jalapeños in the country. It’s also grown in the United States, particularly the southwestern states of Texas and New Mexico, which of course border Mexico. The cultivation of jalapeño peppers in the United States is definitely not at the same scope as in Mexico though; only about 22 square kilometers are dedicated to growing jalapeño peppers in total in the U.S.
The name comes from a town in Mexico near where it is cultivated most often: Xalapa, Veracruz. Xalapa has a variant spelling jalapa that cues your more in on the origin of the name. In Mexico, this most famous of all peppers actually goes by a few different monikers, including chiles gordos, huachinangos, and cuaresmeños.
How hot are jalapeño peppers?
The jalapeño is pretty much the perfect amount of heat for those that like a little kick, but don’t want to challenge their taste buds to a duel. It ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units (or SHU for short.) Most people can enjoy this chili. It’s one of the great culinary peppers in the world, finding its way into Tex-Mex dishes, Thai recipes, Spanish foods, and much more. This is truly a pepper that has fans all over the world.
But let’s put this into perspective against actual numbers. When comparing the jalapeño to some other popular peppers, you can see how far away jalapeños are from being considered “super-hot”. Poblanos are extremely mild (1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units) and jalapeños – while a minimum of three times hotter than a poblano are dwarfed even by the likes of that cayenne powder in your spice rack (30,000 to 50,000 SHU). When comparing to the habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU) or ghost pepper (one of the milder super-hot peppers at 855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU), it’s not even close. Against the world of the Scoville scale, the jalapeño is just not that spicy.
For more on the differences, take a look at some of our showdowns which compare the jalapeño head to head with another chili:
- Versus the poblano
- Versus pepperoncini
- Versus Anaheim chilies
- Versus the chipotle
- Versus the serrano
- Versus the habanero
- Versus the ghost pepper
- Pickled versus fresh
- Green versus red
What do jalapeño peppers taste like?
Jalapeños are typically picked (and eaten) while they are still green in color and not totally ripe. In their green form, jalapeños tend to have a bright, grassy flavor. They can even have a slight bitterness to their taste.
There are those, though, that prefer a totally ripened red jalapeño pepper. When red they lose the bright, bitter flavor and gain in sweetness (and often overall median heat). The heat comes from the capsaicin found in the pepper, so the red version – with more time on the vine – tends to be hotter than green. But it’s still within the same 2,500 to 8,000 SHU range on the Scoville scale.
What do they look like?
At 2 to 3.5 inches in total length, this is as pod-like a pepper as you’ll ever see. Compared to other hot peppers, it’s moderate in total size. Some are stouter and some are longer. But in most all cases, there’s a large enough cavity for stuffing.
Common jalapeño peppers age from green to red, and, as mentioned, change in flavor (gaining in sweetness) as they mature. There are other varieties of jalapeños as well, some hybridized to grow larger, others of totally different colors (like the beautiful purple jalapeño), and some are bred to be more or less spicy than the common version.
–>Learn More: Jalapeño Varieties Are Many…And All Delicious
What is a good jalapeño substitute?
The best is a serrano pepper. It’s similar in taste – bright and grassy – without the same level of bitterness. Though, it is a step up in heat: 10,000 to 23,000 SHU. They can run from near equal in heat to nearly ten times hotter.
For more alternatives, take a look at our post on the best jalapeño substitutes.
What are some good jalapeño uses?
This chili pepper is so versatile, not only because of its very eatable heat but also because of its fresh, bright flavor. It works so well with other fresh vegetables, so anywhere where a bell pepper would be used, a jalapeño could be used instead. Try it in salads, fresh salsas, sandwiches, and vegetable medleys to add a little spark to the meal.
An area where jalapeños really shine is as a popper pepper. Jalapeños have relatively thick walls and a wide cavity for their size, perfect for stuffing.
Cooking with jalapeños
This is one of the easiest chilies to cook with, both because they are easy to find in supermarkets and because their relatively easily handled. You can work with jalapeños using your bare hands, but when you start cutting, it’s best to put on kitchen gloves. The capsaicin in this chili can still provide an uncomfortable level of chili burn, especially if you touch your eyes. Jalapeño in eye is a common enough occurrence that we’ve written a whole post on how to remedy it. Also learning how to treat chili burn in general is a very smart first step before handling any chilies.
Other smart beginners tips:
- To get an idea of how hot a jalapeño may be, look at its exterior skin. If there are cracks, those are often a sign of that particular chili being hotter than others.
- Leaving the membrane in while cooking jalapeños will provide more heat than taking it off. The membrane contains much of the capsaicin in a chili.
- Taste a small piece of the raw jalapeño before cooking or using. Yes, it may not be pleasant, but jalapeños sit at an interesting position on the Scoville scale. At their lowest heat, they border on being mild, while at the highest, they rival a solid medium-heat serrano. Getting an idea of how hot yours is before cooking will help you judge the amount to use.
–> Learn More: Cooking with Jalapeños – The Dos And Don’ts
Some of our favorite jalapeño recipes
- Stuffed jalapeños with bacon: This is a classic spicy appetizer that looks as good as it tastes!
- Cowboy candy (candied jalapeños): Excellent served with fruit. Or try them on your own as a spicy snack.
- Jalapeño popper grilled cheese sandwich: Turn your traditional grilled cheese into something bold and exciting.
- Mango jalapeño salsa: A delicious fruity and spicy salsa – great with tortilla chips or served over pork or chicken.
- Jalapeño popper mashed potatoes: Perhaps the best side for fried chicken ever.
- Bacon wrapped jalapeño pigs in a blanket: Yes, as good as they sound, and no breading here, so low carb.
- Jalapeño fried chicken: The chili is used in both the breading and the brine, making this fried chicken recipe nice and fiery.
With all of its culinary uses and family friendly heat, this chili is an exceptional option for growing yourself. They work both in the garden and in containers. In fact, container gardening may provide the perfect amount of chilies for use in your kitchen.
For more information on planting, take a look at our jalapeño planting guide for all the information you should know.
Where can you buy jalapeño peppers?
Jalapeños can be found nearly everywhere. Whatever you call jalapeño peppers, they are good spicy eating and a global food rock star. Use them raw in dishes, pick up a chipotle rub (chipotle pepper is a smoke-dried jalapeño), or grab one of the many jalapeño hot sauces out there to add some fire to your menu. In fact, Sriracha sauce, one of the most famous hot sauce in the world, is made from red jalapeño peppers.
There are also many jalapeño products available online to tempt your tastebuds or begin your gardening adventure.
Candied jalapeños provide a jolt of both sweet and heat. They are surprisingly delicious served on salads, sandwiches, and even pizzas. Or you may even find yourself popping a few as a snack.
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Must-read related posts
- Here’s what to do with a lot of jalapeños: If you’ve bought too many or have a bumper crop, these are excellent ways to use up your extras.
- Do peppers go bad? Before you “buy and hold” those chilies, understand how long they’ll last.
- Pepper anatomy: What exactly are you looking at when you cut open a chili?
- How to ripen peppers off the vine: Is your pepper not ripe enough? Want it to be closer to a mature red color? These are the tips you want to know.
- Top methods for drying chilies: If you’re interested in creating chili flakes or powders, this is a must read.