How Can You Tell If Your Jalapeno Pepper Is Going to Be Hot

April 30, 2012 11 Comments

How Can You Tell If Your Jalapeno Pepper Is Going to Be Hot

How Hot Is That Pepper

My friend Paula has been teaching me some basics of Mexican cooking and one of the ingredients she loves working with are jalapeno chili peppers. In fact, as a snack, she likes to slice them up and eat them with a little salt and fresh lemon juice like they were Bonbons. I try a piece and I end up with the hiccups.

Last week we were working on a fresh tomatillo salsa that Paula has made for me in the past and is now a staple in my fridge. It is so versatile. You can put it on just about anything you want to spice up with a little flavor like roast chicken, fish, pork tenderloin. This sauce is perfect for tacos, tamales, and tortillas or as a simple dip for corn chips. I’ll post a recipe for tomatillo salsa later this week.

Just a few ingredients in Paula’s tomatillo salsa and one of them is the jalapeño pepper.  I noticed one week we added six jalapenos peppers to one pound of tomatillos and the next week just two jalapenos. I asked why and she said the two jalapeno peppers were much hotter than the six other ones.

Of course I asked her how she could tell without cutting open the peppers and tasting them. She told me she does it by looking at them. It seems that jalapeno peppers get hotter as they get older and the older they get, they change in appearance.

When young, they are smooth, uniformly green and less hot but as they get older they start to develop striations or lines in the outer skin. You’ll also start seeing little white lines and white flecks in the skin as shown in the photo above. According to Paula, these should be hotter and sure enough the version of tomatillo salsa made with these two older jalapeños was hotter than the batch we made with six.

Does that mean you can’t find really hot jalapeños with smooth skins? I don’t think so. I’m sure there are some jalapeño peppers that are perfectly smooth that are really hot but just imagine how hot they are going to be when they age some. Supposedly red jalapeño peppers are at their ripest and most hot. I stay away from them so I have no idea.

Hotter In Refrigerator?

When I asked Paula if the peppers getter hotter with age in the refrigerator, she said they do. I’m not a food scientist but I did purchase a few jalapeno peppers and watched them over the course of a couple weeks and can say yes, they do develop the white lines and striations as they age and yes, they were much hotter.

Don’t take my word for it. If you like hot, spicy foods try this experiment for yourself and see what results you get. I would love to hear about what you find out.

And when shopping, you now can pay attention to the bin full of jalapeno peppers and have a better chance of picking out the hot ones if that’s your goal.

Last modified on Thu 23 January 2014 4:07 pm

Comments (11)

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  1. Cathleen says:

    Thanks for this info!! I have always passed up the older looking ones for the smooth shiny fresh picked pepper and was disappointed at how little heat they do have if any. Older ones left behind no more!

  2. susanne says:

    Yes. thanks so much for the info. Thank u for sharing your knowledge. It is greatly appreciated!!

  3. Jeff says:

    For those that grow their own chiles. The heat of the pepper is largely determined by soil moisture. As the soil dries, the chiles release capsaicin as a defense mechanism. So, if you want hotter chiles, go easier on the watering and let the soil dry. If it’s a wet spring our early peppers are always mild. I like to let the ground dry up quite a bit to the point of nearly wilting the plants.

  4. Diana says:

    Wow . . . thank you this is all great information to learn… I have been making my own salsa for years and have grown peppers a few times but never knew any of this information!

  5. Carolyn says:

    With the goal of making lots of salsa this summer, I’ve planted numerous types of peppers. Not only will I keep my eye out for the striations, but I love the comment about soil moisture as it relates to the heat of the pepper. Looking forward to the tomatillo recipe later this week as well, as I’m growing those for the first time.

  6. Georgia says:

    When I was in a Mexican supermarket, I asked a Spanish Speaking produce man how to choose jalepenos that are less hot. He told me that the peppers with a wilted or browned stem are the hottest. So, choose the ones with a nice crisp green stem for those less hot.

  7. Todd says:

    My personal experience says putting jalapeno’s in the fridge will NOT make them more hot. In fact, I’ve found quite the opposite to be true. If you want to make them less hot, put them in the fridge. Not the other way around like this article says. While the state of the outside may be a good indicator as to heat, putting them in the fridge certainly does NOT make them more hot. It’s sad that I have to disagree with someone who has worked with these peppers for such a long time. You’d think that experience would lend some credibility to what they ‘say.’

    It’s logical. The longer you store/freeze something in the cold, the quality/taste/what have you, just degrades over time. The same happens with the heat of the jalapeno pepper. Sorry to burst your bubble.

    Granted I don’t keep jalapeno peppers in my fridge for ‘weeks’ like in the article. That’s just another odd thing about this. They don’t even last that long in the fridge, let alone outside of it. Where is this info coming from? The only thing that lasts ‘weeks’ in my fridge are things like ketchup and other jarred items/condiments.

    Todd, it may be your experience that jalapeno peppers don’t last in the refrigerator but I some in mine right now that are three weeks old and they are perfectly fine, have more striations than they did two weeks ago and they are definitely hotter. I’m not a food scientist so this is totally anecdotal but I would request before you make statements like those above, you at LEAST give it a try for yourself. – RG

  8. Carol says:

    I have not found this to be true. I buy jalapeños that are smooth and green with crisp stems at the same grocery and sometimes the are nice and mild (I prefer them like that) and sometimes they are too hot for me to enjoy. I wish I understood how to buy the ones I like.

  9. Chris says:

    I’ve been growing Jalapeno(and other) peppers for 5 years. There are a wide variety of Jalapenos. The variety really plays a big role. Personally, I prefer the Billy Biker for a good heat. If you are not growing them yourself, then you won’t really know.

    The striations referred to are called corking. Corking is caused by the pepper growing faster than the skin can keep up. The skin rips and the heals leaving a small scar. But I do use it as a measure of when to pick the peppers. Picking too early does not give time for the capsaicin to develop.

    Peppers keep longer on the bush than after picked. But the more you pick, the more peppers your plants will produce. If you leave them on the bush they will eventually turn red. The red ones, in my experience, do not have the same flavor as the green and I have not noticed them being any hotter really. If anything they get sweater and less hot when the turn red.

    Remember that the Scoville Scale measures how much sugar solution is needed to dilute the capsaicin until it is no longer hot. Plants produce sugar via photosynthesis, hence after certain point, the sugars start to collect in the pepper and neutralize the capsaicin resulting in a sweater and milder pepper.

    Now, to further confuse you. After a pepper is picked, it can still turn red as it ages and dries. This is usually a deeper red than you get when they redden on the bush. When died from green to red, they maintain their heat and flavor, and may even get a bit hotter. This is useful, if like me, you like to dried and grind them for use in cooking.

  10. Natasha says:

    I love making poppers and I have noticed that it is true that the jalapeños get incredibly hotter as they age in the fridge. I am not weak when it comes to spicy food, yet when I leave them in the fridge a couple weeks…yikes! I can hardly take it…fire and tears, but delicious flavor!

  11. Christine says:

    Great info I’m growing Jalepino peppers for the first time in pots on my patio,there comming on rally well at the moment,my son likes really Hot peppers ,he picked one today to try it but not hot at all(there only very young yet)so it’s great to know the longer you leave them the hotter they get:-) and the soil tip excellent Ty so much,carnt wait for your Salsa Recipe !

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