Jalapeños Not Spicy? Here May Be Why

Have you experienced a jalapeño with a surprising lack of a kick? If your jalapeños are not as spicy as expected, there are many reasons why it may be the case. Let’s break down what may be happening with your bunch.

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There’s a natural heat range to jalapeños, and the low end is milder than you think

All chili peppers have a typical range of potential heat, measured by the Scoville scale. Jalapeños have a heat range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), which sets it at the lower end of medium-heat peppers. The floor (2,500 SHU) is not that much hotter than popular mild chilies like poblanos (1,000 to 1,500 SHU) and Anaheim chilies (500 to 2,500 SHU). If your crop naturally sits at the lower end of the range, they will taste decidedly mild compared to those at 8,000 SHU, which is near serrano pepper heat (10,000 to 21,000 SHU).

What causes this range spread? There are many factors, including the soil they grow in, the amount of water the crop receives (less makes hotter peppers), and how long the jalapeños stay on the vine.

–> Learn More: How To Grow Hotter Peppers

You may be eating an intentionally grown milder jalapeño hybrid

Ever wonder why store-bought jalapeños tend to taste milder than those you get from your garden or farmer’s market? This is why.

There are many jalapeño varieties out there, and some are hybrids that were intentionally grown to be milder than the typical heirloom jalapeño. Many supermarkets stock these hybrids, as they are chilies that are more eatable for the masses. But those that love hotter jalapeños are often disappointed with the spiciness of the selection they purchase.

This is hard to combat in stores (other than favoring grocers that typically stock hotter peppers after trial and error.) But if you’re growing chilies, opt for heirloom jalapeño seeds.

–> Learn More: What Are Heirloom Peppers?

The chilies may have received too much water while growing

We reference this above under the natural heat range, but it’s worth mentioning separately, too. Jalapeños (or any hot peppers) that are strained via less watering tend to be hotter. So the opposite is also true. Chilies that receive plenty of water while growing tend to be milder.

This could be intentional or unintentional. Green jalapeños grown for mass-market retail, could be receiving plenty of water to keep them at the milder end of their heat range.

–> Learn More: How To Grow Hotter Peppers

If you’re growing seeds from a previous crop, you may have an unintentional milder hybrid

It’s surprising to many, but you can accidentally create the potential for jalapeño hybrids in your garden. How? if you plant peppers varieties too close together and gather seeds from the crop for next year’s planting, those seeds could be a hybrid. That leads to peppers that look like jalapeños but with only a fraction of the heat. It’s also why many are surprised by shockingly spicy bell peppers in the second year of planting.

The jalapeño membrane may have been removed before using

The majority of pepper heat doesn’t come from the fleshy walls of the pepper. Rather, it comes from the white membrane inside the chili. If that membrane is stripped out (along with the seeds that have some heat as well), you’ll be pulling out a significant amount of spiciness from your jalapeño.

Your jalapeños may have lost spiciness during the cooking process

Some think that the capsaicin (the compound behind a pepper’s heat) “breaks down” during cooking, but that’s not the case. Capsaicin can handle plenty of heat without any impact on spiciness.

Instead, what typically happens is simple dilution. The jalapeños can taste less spicy when cooked with other ingredients because the spiciness distributes throughout the dish. Capsaicin is water-soluble. And when jalapeños are added to a dish during cooking, that capsaicin disperses throughout watery sauces and dishes, leading to less spiciness than you may expect.

–> Learn More: Does Cooking Peppers Make Them Hotter?

An even less spicy scenario for those jalapeños is combining them with dairy as a cooking ingredient. The protein in milk breaks down the jalapeños capsaicin leading to less spicy peppers.

Raise your chances for a hotter jalapeño

There are a few things that you can look for if you want better odds for a hotter jalapeño.

  • Try fully mature red jalapeños: If they are available, those red chilies have been on the vine longer. Meaning: There’s more capsaicin in the pepper, so they tend to be hotter.
  • Look for corking: Corking are those stretch marks you see on some chilies. They are created by fast growth spurts, stretching the pepper’s skin. While that means they’ve received plenty of water, it’s also a sign of age (and more maturity tends to mean a hotter pepper.) Learn more about corking here.
  • Buy your jalapeños from farmers’ markets or chili farms: Really, anywhere that’s not a supermarket. Mass-retailers cater to the masses, so higher-heat chilies are not in their best interest.
  • Grow your own: This is by far the best way to stack the deck. You control the seeds used, watering, and time on the vine, so this is as close to a guarantee for plenty of spiciness that you can get.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on February 22, 2024 to include new content.
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Craig

I’ve always heard that if you want peppers to be hot you need to periodically deprive them of water throughout the growing process.

What I was told was the peppers think they are in a draught situation and become spicier to ward off animals trying to eat them as a source of hydration.

I feel like this has worked for me. But not seeing this in the article makes me wonder. Any truth to this?

Mark

I’ve heard that jalepenos will lose spice / heat if they cross-polinate with a sweet pepper. Don’t grow them right next to a sweet pepper.

Larry White

Why are the fresh jalapenos sold by HEB grocery no longer hot and spicy?