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How to tell if a jalapeño's hot?

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  • Tom Steele May 12, 2002 12:28 PM
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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.

        Thanks!

      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.
            Observe.
            It worked for me.

            1. What interesting replies!! Here in California, the red jalapenos are much milder. With the green ones - the more black they have on them, the hotter they are. When I'm ready to use them, I first cut off the top. Then I run the tip of my finger along the cut edge and then touch it to my tongue. That tells me how hot that particular pepper is. Then I use it or not depending on the results of the taste test.

              Time, maybe, for another of my food rants........cilantro. It seems to me that they are breeding it with larger and larger leaves and the taste is disappearing. Is it just my imagination?

              2 Replies
              1. re: Karolyn

                I agree about larger leaved but tastless cilatro around lately. Especially in supermarkets. Some times it has been tasting more like flat-leaved parsley. Hopefully it's just a off season thing. I don't run into the bland cilantro as much in produce stores such as chinatown and my local asian place.

                1. re: Karolyn

                  Thanks to this savvy pack of hounds, I bought me a slew of HOT jalapeños yesterday, pointy, not rounded, at the tip, and yes, Karolyn, the ones with black on the skin were the hottest.

                  I also tried heating/softening corn tortillas right on a naked gas burner, and it worked beautifully. Usually, the tortilla quickly "ballooned," then relaxed the moment I took it off the flames.

                  After years of smoking up my apartment by using hot cast iron to soften tortillas, now making tacos is a smile.

                2. Well, I am thankful for the milder jalopeno. I love the flavor, which by the way is nothing like a green pepper. But although I like a little spicy I can't handle the real hot foods. It would make more sense if your going to the trouble to create a milder pepper, then label them accordingly.

                  1. Reduced capsaicinoids in pepper varieties doesn't necessarily constitute 'dumbest deeds". Puerto Ricans use a Ají dulce variety which is in reality a habanero without any heat. it has the same size, shape, color and unusual flavor of a habanero without the insane heat. I wish we had them here.

                    1. it's a wet season. happy pepper plants make milder peppers. in all likelihood, the people at the store just don't know any better.

                      1. buy serranos instead of jalapenos. They are not as hot as they use to be but still hotter than a jalapeno. Don't cut out the membrane and it should be pretty hot

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: scubadoo97

                          Or you could mix the two, for a jalapeno flavor with more heat.

                          1. re: EWSflash

                            Actually I think serranos have a wonderful pepper flavor. Not only is the heat amplified but the pepper flavor is also heightened.

                        2. I have also notice the huge variation in jalapeno temperature. Got in trouble giving people food I swore was mild. Cleared their sinuses.