Jalapeño is a medium-sized chili pepper native to Mexico. It is also known as the chile gordo, a Spanish term that translates to “fat chili pepper.” Perhaps, due to its round shape and wide size. Jalapeños consistently range from 2-4 inches long and 1-1.5 inches wide. They have a thicker skin when compared to other hot peppers such as serrano and habanero. Thus, they offer a wonderful crunch and thickness that works perfectly on salsas, guacamoles, and other garnishes. They also provide refreshing, rich, smoky, and earthy flavor notes, especially when roasted or smoked. Furthermore, they also give a mild heat, with Scoville units that range between 3,500 to 8,000. This makes its heat ranks at 1/600th of the world’s hottest peppers.
Nevertheless, the name “jalapeño” is a Spanish word that means “from Xalapa,” which is also spelled with the “J.” It is the capital city of Veracruz, Mexico, where the peppers originated. Jalapeños exist even before the conquest of Spain. The Ancient Aztecs were the first ones to use them. However, they smoke-dry these peppers instead of eating them. These smoke-dried jalapeños are what we know and call chipotle. Chipotles, along with its byproducts like chipotle moles, soon become popular in the Aztec markets. Then, it was introduced in the United States as a way of preserving food. Today, Mexico remains to be the leading producer of jalapeños worldwide. In America, these peppers lead in the states of California, New Mexico, and Texas, especially to the areas near the border of Mexico. Furthermore, jalapeño pepper has become the official state pepper of the Texas state since 1995.
Family: Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Genus: Capsicum (Pepper)
Species: Capsicum Annuum
Binomial Name: Capsicum Annuum ‘Jalapeño’
Jalapeño Pepper Trivia
- The National Hot and Spicy Food Day is celebrated every August 19th.
- Jalapeños were the first peppers to reach space via a NASA shuttle.
- 16 is the Guinness World Records’ most number of jalapeño eaten in a minute. It was Alfredo Hernandes who won the award on the 17th of September 2006, at the La Costeña Feel the Heat Challenge in Chicago, Illinois.
- On the 1st of May 2011, the Major League Eating records Patrick Bertolli for eating 275 pickled jalapeños in 8 minutes. On the 16th of September 2007, he ate 191 pickled jalapeños in 6.5 minutes in the “Short-Form.”
- Cocaine was being shipped from Mexico to the United States through pickled jalapeños.
- In order to ship cocaine to the United States, Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman “El Chapo” operated a “Comadre Jalapeños” cannery in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Jalapeño Pepper Buying Guide
- As jalapeño matures, it’ll start to develop some vertical, white, stretchmark-like lines and flecks. These lines are called corking or striation marks. It indicates the amount of stress the plant has endured, considering various factors like age, climate, soil, dryness, sun, and alike. This indication also affects the hotness of the pepper. The older the pepper, the more stress the plant has been under and the more striation it will form. Thus, the more marks you’ll see, and the hotter the pepper will be. Contrastingly, the smoother the pepper, the younger and milder it is.
- Regardless of its striation, jalapeños should still have a firm, thick, dry, and glossy skin. Avoid the ones that have soft spots or shriveled.
- It’s also good to remember that the riper or older the pepper, the hotter it’ll get. Thus, red jalapeños will have more heat than the green ones, especially if they show a lot of striation marks. However, they tend to be sweeter than the green ones.
- You can check the heat of jalapeños by tasting them. Though make sure to ask permission first. The best way to do that is to cut off a small piece at the tip of the pepper and nibble it. The tip is the mildest part of the pepper. It gets spicier towards the stem.
- Check the size of the jalapeños and choose the ones that are 2-4 inches long and 1-1.5 inches wide.
- If possible, buy organic jalapeño peppers during its season. Organic ones might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re sweeter and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, peppers from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to taste them before you buy them.
Jalapeño Varieties to Explore:
Over the years, jalapeño peppers are being crossed with other pepper varieties. Thus, plant breeders have produced some of the hottest and most bizarre hybrids. Among them includes the following:
- Lemon Spice Jalapeño – A hybrid developed by the New Mexico State University, this pepper offers a vibrantly yellow color, along with some lemony sweetness added to it. It provides the same heat as the traditional jalapeño.
- Nadapeno Pepper – This variety of jalapeño offers the same flavor as the traditional one. It is also sweet and green in color. However, it doesn’t have any heat at all.
- Orange Spice Jalapeño – This hybrid offers a vibrantly orange color, along with some orangey sweetness added to it. It provides more heat than the traditional jalapeño. Thus, this variety makes a lively-colored hot sauce.
- Farmer’s Jalapeño – This bizarre variety of jalapeño has lots of striation or “corking” marks. Due to its appearance, some refer to it as potato skin pepper. Despite that, it offers a rich and earthy flavor, along with mild heat. They also grow larger than jalapeños, which makes them great for stuffing and roasting.
- Señorita – This jalapeño variety is very hot. It also starts with a dark green color, but it can eventually turn into purple or red when left on the vine.
- Fresno – This jalapeño variety is smaller than señorita. It is also milder in heat.
- Sierra Fuego – This jalapeño variety also grows from dark green to red. It might be larger in size, but it is mildly hot.
- Mucho Nacho – This variety is the longest jalapeño pepper. It grows up to 4 inches in length. Despite that, it only offers heat that ranges from 4,000 to 8,000 Scoville units.
- Aji Omnicolor – This variety is noted for its aesthetic appeal. Its plant produces an array of colorful chiles that ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.
- Biker Billy – This variety is relatively large, with an average of 3.5 inches length and 2 inches wide. It is named after a television personality and biker Billy Hufnagle. It offers heat that ranges from 10,000 to 30,000 Scoville units.
- Black Jalapeño – This variety was bred to be black as midnight. It’s sweeter compared to other jalapeño varieties. Hence, it only gives heat from 2,000 to 2,500 Scoville units.
- Chichimeca – This hybrid is fairly large at about 4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. It was bred to be disease-resistant. Yet, it only offers mild heat that ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units. But, it can reach up to 8,000 under horticultural coaxing.
- Chilipeño – This hybrid was bred to be tolerant of temperature fluctuations and to be drought-resistant. It grows from 3 to 4.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Like chichimeca, it only offers mild heat that ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units. But, it can reach up to 8,000 under horticultural coaxing.
- Conchos – This variety grows 3 to 4 inches long and 1.5 to 2 inches wide. It offers mild heat that ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units.
- Firenza – This variety grows 3 to 3.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. It offers mild heat that ranges from 3,000 to 8,000 Scoville units.
- Jalafuego – Also known as Fuego, this variety grows 3.5 to 4 inches long. It is not meant to be confused with a non-jalapeño variety called Fuego. It offers mild heat that ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units. But, it can reach up to 8,000 under horticultural coaxing.
- Mammoth Jalapeño – This variety is big enough to reach 4 inches long and almost 2 inches wide. It also yields at an early harvest. Thus, it only provides a mild heat that ranges from 1,000 to 5,000 Scoville units. This hybrid is best for stuffed peppers.
- NuMex Piñata – This variety offers an array of colors like red, purple, and orange peppers. But, it only offers a mild heat that ranges from 1,000 to 5,000 Scoville units.
- Tabasco Pepper – This is the most popular jalapeño variety. It is used in hot sauces like the famous Tabasco sauce. It offers moderate heat that ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.
Jalapeño Pepper Production & Farming in Texas
Jalapeños are usually grown as annuals, but they’re perennial in USDA zones 9 through 11. They are widely grown in the state of Texas, especially in the southern region near the border to Mexico. Here, the peppers are traditionally harvested towards the beginning of the fall season. Some growers also plant these peppers in greenhouses so that the fruit can be harvested throughout the season at their own convenience. Still, this option largely depends on your climate. In zones between 4 and 7, the seeds should be planted indoors between mid-February and mid-March. Though you may start earlier or later, early March tends to be the sweet spot. Around the first week of May or whenever the last frost is gone, the plants are strong enough to be transplanted outdoors. Jalapeño plants need full sun. Otherwise, the peppers will take longer to mature. In general, jalapeños are ready for harvest 70-80 days from the day you transplanted their plants outdoors. Thus, in zones between 4 and 7, it means that harvesting starts in late July. However, if you transplanted late or the plants didn’t get full sunlight, you might have to wait until August or later for the peppers to be ready for harvest. If you lost track of when you transplanted them, look for the signs of ripeness instead. Peppers turn red as they ripen. You may also see white or “corking” marks on its skin. The pepper should also fall between 2 and 3 inches long.
Meanwhile, you can harvest jalapeños at any stage of their growth. The only consequence is that it might not have properly-developed seeds, which means that it’ll have lower heat levels. But, you should start harvesting jalapeños as soon as you think they’re ready in order for the plant to keep producing more.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA. However, this list doesn’t rank peppers. But, since they tested positive on pesticides that are known to be toxic to the brain, they’ve created their Dirty Dozen Plus™ list instead and included these peppers.
Between the years 2010 and 2012, the USDA found oxamyl, acephate, and chlorpyrifos in peppers. These toxic pesticides are banned from use on some crops. However, they’re still permitted to be used on chile peppers. Thus, it is better to buy organic peppers to reduce your pesticide consumption. If they’re unavailable or too expensive, we suggest you cook the conventional ones instead before eating them as heating these peppers can reduce the levels of pesticides. Or better yet, consider growing your own peppers organically.
Mexico remains to dominate the world production of Jalapeño peppers, with around 109 square miles of land dedicated for them. Texas is the third leading producer of jalapeños in the United States, following California and New Mexico. Some other countries like China, Peru, Spain, and India also produce small amounts of commercial chile peppers, including jalapeños.
Fresh jalapeños are commonly sold and priced by weight, either by the pound or kilogram. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these peppers in bushels, cartons, and even crates. Pickled, roasted, or other byproducts of jalapeño peppers are also available year-round and you may purchase them in cans, mason jars, bottles, and plastic containers.
Enjoying Jalapeño Peppers
Jalapeños are commonly eaten as it is when it’s still green or unripe since the red or ripe ones are usually turned into chipotle by means of smoke-drying. They are traditionally enjoyed as stuffed, pickled, or jellied. But, they can also be enjoyed on top of pizzas, salads, nachos, tacos, and more! Jalapeños offer a mild heat that needs not to be feared of. It pairs well on brown rice, black beans, mustard, cheeses, vegetables, cornbread, meat, guacamoles, and so on. The list will never end!
All fresh peppers are best kept unwashed, in a sealable and airtight container lined with paper towels. While you can keep whole, fresh jalapeños in the pantry for 2 to 4 days, they are best to be stored in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, with a temperature that ranges between 40 and 45ºF. Properly stored, they will retain their freshness for 1-2 weeks. It’s also good to consider that peppers with thicker skins last longer than the thinner ones. And, whole peppers are more shelf-stable than the sliced ones. Meanwhile, you can also freeze fresh peppers. Spread them evenly, on a single layer in a sheet tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the peppers onto freezer-safe bags. Here, it’ll last for up to 1 year. But, take note that they can only be used in cooking. It’s not meant to be eaten raw as it requires further heat to kill the bacteria. But, to further retain its crispness, you can half-cook the peppers in oil prior to freezing. Fully cooked or roasted jalapeño peppers should be refrigerated within 2 hours of exposure to heat. Here, they will usually last 3-5 days while pickled jalapeños can last for 1 year.
There are countless numbers of ways where you can enjoy cooked jalapeños. Make a hole, fill it with seafood, meat, poultry, and/or cheese, fry or roast and you have a delectable stuffed jalapeños. Furthermore, wrap them in bread crumbs or bacon before frying and you have jalapeño poppers. If that’s too much, you can simply make the ever so famous Texas toothpicks by coating these jalapeños in egg-milk and seasoned flour, then fry it in hot oil. Serve it with ranch dipping sauce to complete this wonderful appetizer. You can also turn them into a jelly and use them as a spread on burgers or sandwiches for an extra kick. Meanwhile, you can sauté them in oil until the skin blisters and you have a delectable chiles toreados. Serve it with melted cheese on top for a leveled up meal. Also, feel free to make your own chipotle by smoke-drying ripe jalapeño peppers.
Raw jalapeños is composed of 92% water, 6.5% carbohydrates, 0.9% protein, and >1% fat by weight.
- Carbohydrates: Jalapeño pepper is naturally low in calories, which are primarily composed of water and carbohydrates.
- Fiber: Jalapeño contains small amounts of fiber, accounting for 3% by weight. Still, it makes a decent source of fiber.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Jalapeño pepper is an excellent source of vitamins C, B6, K, and A. As a matter of fact, 100 g of raw jalapeños provide at least 143% of DV for vitamin C and 111% of DV for vitamin A, making this fruit one of the richest dietary sources of these nutrients. It’s also a considerable plant-based source of potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and folate. It is also loaded with antioxidants.
- Jalapeño pepper promotes weight loss because of its high water content and the amount of capsaicin it contains. It also triggers the body’s “thermodynamic burn,” which speeds up metabolism.
- The high levels of vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process. It can also reduce the development of gout significantly.
- The high levels of vitamin B6 reduces the development of rheumatoid arthritis. But if you already have one, jalapeño peppers can help control the pain.
- The high levels of vitamin K contributes to bone health and wound healing while reducing the formation of blood clotting.
- The high levels of vitamin A promotes healthy vision. It helps in preventing cancer too.
- Potassium improves heart health while folate improves our body’s function. Folate is especially important to consume during pregnancy.
- Calcium builds and maintains strong bones. It is also needed for our heart, muscles, and nerves to function properly.
Nutritional Information per 100 g of Raw, Jalapeño Pepper:
- Calories: 29 cal
- Water: 92%
- Protein: 0.91 g
- Carbohydrates: 6.5 g
- Sugar: 4.12 g
- Fiber: 2.8 g
- Fat: 0.37 g
When Are Jalapeño Peppers in Season in Texas?
To find out when Jalapeño Peppers are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.