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May 12, 2002 12:28 PM

How to tell if a jalapeño's hot?

  • t

I've railed about the nimrod agricultural geneticist who decided the world needed mild (and tasteless) jalapeño peppers that are visually completely indistinguishable from the fiery peppers. This ranks as one of the dumbest deeds ever committed against a vegetable--right up there with making tomatoes that can be shipped anywhere in the world without bruising with all the flavor and texture of a tennis ball. In fact, you can play tennis with those tomatoes.

Anyway, I wondered if anyone knows how to tell whether a jalapeño is going to be hot or not. Even at the Greenmarket here in Union Square, I've bought a dozen or so from the Blew farm's "HOT HOT HOT" jalapeño basket, only to be severely disappointed Scoville-y speaking.

I've had better luck with smaller, narrower jalapeños, particularly those with a good deal of blackening on their tight skins. The big fat bulgy ones can be either.

Is there something to the folklore that the curved jalapeños are hotter?

Does anyone know the name and e-mail address of the "scientist" who did this to us? (S)he should be forced to drink an entire bottle of Dave's Insanity Sauce!

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  1. Well, Tom, here in Texas the mild jalapenos are known as TAMS. They were developed at Texas A&M. Actually, I like them to eat straight up like you would a banana pepper. For heat we usually use pickled. Don't know how to tell the difference in fresh ones. Except the tams are the ones in our garden. The ones at the store are usually hotter.

    1. Look for jalapeños that are pointy at the end, and not rounded or blunt. Many times these will be the curvy ones as you mentioned, but sometimes not. Also red jalapeños will usually be hotter than green ones. When I need sure fire heat, I step up to serranos, whose flavor are similar to jalapeños, but whose heat levels are reliably consistent. Cheaper too, as one fat jalapeño can weigh as much as five serranos, yet they are often priced the same per lb.

      1 Reply
      1. re: foodpimp

        Thanks, foodpimp! I think the smaller and hotter jalapeños I've been finding were pointy at the end, so that's that. And yes, the red ones--which are less common right now--are usually nice and hot.

        Serranos are indeed a good alternative, but there's something about the flavor of a hot jalapeño. . . .

        There's a great grocery near me that carries about 14 kinds of fresh peppers, including the wildly hot habañero/Scotch bonnet. But the jalapeños vary mysteriously. Now I'll just pick out the pointy ones.


      2. I just want to add that calling someone a "Nimrod" is a complement. While the name may sound perjorative it is actually the name of a great warrior and stateman.

        As for the dumbing down of jalapenos... As long as the flavor is intensified this wouldn't be bad (then those who can't handle heat would at least get exposed to the flavors and who knows how there tastes could change), but when it's just an overactive and tasteless green pepper, then the world is getting a disservice.

        2 Replies
        1. re: the rogue

          It's not so much the lack of heat that bugs me, but the watery lack of flavor. Jalapenos have a distinctive taste- it used to be more pronounced. I bought a jalapeno plant at a nursery recently, hoping the hot summer sun will actually make it hot hot hot.

          1. re: EWSflash

            See, that's my problem, when my mouth is on fire I can't taste any of the flavor

        2. We don't mind mild (Texas A&M) as long as they're labelled as such; the mischief comes if they're not.

          1. Invite a friend over.
            Give him/her a bit of the pepper in question.
            Have them eat it.
            It worked for me.