If you love Mexican food, then you probably love eating jalapeños. But if you’ve tried a lot of jalapeños, then you would’ve realized that not all jalapeños are that hot. So if you’re looking for that heat, then you may be wondering how to tell if a jalapeño is hot.
The older the pepper, the hotter it is. So you want to look for signs of age. An obvious sign is a color. Jalapeños turn red as they age. Another sign of age and hotness is stretch marks. The stretch marks are the white lines on the pepper. They look like human stretch marks.
There are different varieties of jalapeño, each having different heat levels. You might be surprised that jalapeños from the same plant can even have different heat levels. Keep reading to learn more on how to tell if a jalapeño is hot.
How to Tell If Jalapeño Is Hot
The jalapeño is a chili pepper that originated in Mexico. It specifically came from the town of Jalapa, from which it was named. Hence, Mexican cuisine is unique for using the jalapeño.
Compared to other chili peppers, the jalapeño heat levels can range between mild and to hot. The heat level can even vary among peppers of the same plant. The Scoville scale is used to measure the pungency or heat level of chili peppers.
The hotness depends on the plant cultivation and preparation. So depending on those factors, a jalapeño can range from 2,500 to over 10,000 Scoville heat units.
Check the Color
In general, young jalapeños are green. Since they are young, they haven’t yet produced much of the compound that gives chili peppers their heat. (You can learn about what makes jalapeños hot later below.) Hence, young jalapeños have the mildest heat levels.
As the jalapeños mature, they turn red, and hence, hotter. As red jalapeños continue to mature, they turn dark red, even appearing dark purple.
Sometimes, the color change isn’t even. So you can find some green jalapeños with patches of different shades of red. You can also see find red jalapeños with patches of dark red or purple.
You can also find yellow or orange jalapeños. These were created by humans through cross-breeding. A famous yellow jalapeño breed is the NuMex. It got its name because it was developed by scientists from New Mexico State University.
These jalapeños tend to have milder heat levels. Yellow or orange jalapeños are developed for other reasons besides their heat. These reasons can include flavor (and of course color).
For example, the NuMex jalapeño is known for its fruity and citrus flavors.
Look at Stretch Marks, AKA Corking
Besides changes in color, jalapeños can also develop stretch marks as they age. These stretch marks are several white lines on the skin of the pepper.
They look like human stretch marks, but a key difference is these lines also have texture. If you feel these lines, you’ll notice that they are rough. These lines appear because the skin gets stretched as the rapidly jalapeños grow.
Plenty of water, sun, and nutritious soil can cause the rapid growth in the jalapeños. Some people call this event as corking.
These lines are actually damaged skin. But there’s nothing wrong with corked jalapeños. They just don’t look as pretty as the ones that didn’t cork. But because the corking is a sign of damage, it is seen as a cosmetic flaw.
Hence, you may not find many jalapeños that corked in big chain grocery stores. Those corked jalapeños would be used for processed jalapeño products, like canned foods. But if you get your jalapeños in local stores or the farmers’ market, you might find corked jalapeños.
What Makes Jalapeño Hot
Capsaicin is the compound that give chili peppers their distinct spicy or hot flavor. Capsaicin is an irritant for mammals. The burning sensation you feel when you eat a chili pepper is the capsaicin.
Capsaicin irritates the mucous membranes in your mouth and tongue. Other mammals hate that burning feeling. So, the chili pepper plants evolved to produce capsaicin in their fruits to keep mammals from eating them. But for whatever weird reason, humans enjoy eating chili peppers.
Like many chili peppers, all of the capsaicin and related compounds are found at the top part of the jalapeño. Specifically, the compounds are between the placenta and endocarp.
The placenta is the bulky part of the pepper that carries the seeds. It is connected to the calyx or crown. The apex or the tip of the pepper tends to have the least capsaicin.
Some people think that the seeds produce capsaicin. When you eat the seeds, you get that burning sensation. But you only get that feeling because the seeds can adsorb some of the capsaicin. The seeds don’t actually produce it.
There are jalapeño varieties that are specifically bred to have different heat levels. Below is a list of jalapeños and their Scoville heat units (SHU). If your store or local market has over one jalapeño variety, see if it has any of the ones below.
Mild to Medium
- TAM Jalapeño – 3,500 SHU
- NuMex Pinata -1,000 – 5,000 SHU
- Chichimeca – 3,500 – 5,000, SHU but some can reach up to 8,000 SHU
- Mammoth Jalapeño – 1,000 – 5,000 SHU
- Chilipeño Hybrid – 2,500 – 5,000 SHU
- Conchos – Up to 5,000 SHU
Medium to Hot
- Jalaro Jalapeño 2,500 – 8,000 SHU
- Jalafuego – 4,000 – 8,000 SHU
- Mucho Nacho – 4,000 – 8,000 SHU
- Black Jalapeño – 2,500 – 10,000 SHU
- Purple Jalapeño – 2,5000 – 8,000 SHU
- Mitla Hybrid – 4,000 – 6,000 SHU
- Firenza – 3,000 – 8,000 SHU
- Jalapa Hybrid – Up to 10,000 SHU
The Biker Billy is named after jalapeño lover and TV personality Billy Hufnagle. When green, the Biker Billy has a mild heat level. Like all jalapeños, the hotness intensifies as the pepper ages.
The heat from a fully ripe Biker Billy can be as high as 30,000 SHU. This heat level is comparable to some cayenne peppers.
Do I have to wear gloves when I cut jalapeños?
Though you can cut jalapeños with bare hands, it’s advisable to wear gloves. As mentioned above, capsaicin is an irritant, and not just on the mucus membranes in the mouth. Some people’s skin is sensitive, so they’ll feel a burning sensation on their hands.
How to handle chili pepper heat?
Dairy products have a protein called casein. The casein breaks down capsaicin, reducing the heat. If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, plant-based milks help too. Capsaicin is soluble in fat.
The fats in plant-based milks dilute the capsaicin, reducing the perceived heat. Coconut milk works best.