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 is jalapeno chili peppers. In fact, as a snack, she likes to slice them up and eat them with a bit of 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, or pork tenderloin. This sauce is perfect for tacos, tamales, and tortillas or as a simple dip for corn chips.
Here's the recipe for tomatillo salsa.
Look for Hotness
Just a few ingredients in Paula's tomatillo salsa and one of them is the jalapeno pepper. I noticed we added six jalapenos peppers to one pound of tomatillos one week and the following week just two jalapenos. I asked why, and she said the two jalapeno peppers were much hotter than the six others.
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. Jalapeno peppers get hotter as they get older, and the older they get, their appearance changes.
When young, they are smooth, uniformly green, and less hot, but as they age, they start to develop striations or lines in the outer skin. As shown in the photo above, you'll also start seeing little white lines and white flecks on the skin.
According to Paula, these should be hotter, and sure enough, the version of tomatillo salsa made with these two older jalapeno±os was hotter than the batch we made with six.
Does that mean you can't find hot jalapenos with smooth skins? I don't think so. I'm sure some jalapeño peppers are perfectly smooth and really hot, but imagine how hot they will be when they age some. Supposedly red jalapeno±o peppers are at their ripest and most hot. I stay away from them, so I have no idea.
Hotter In the Refrigerator?
When I asked Paula if the peppers get 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 a couple of weeks and can say yes, they do develop the white lines and striations as they age and are much hotter.
Don't take my word for it. If you like hot, spicy foods, try this experiment and see your results. I would love to hear about what you find out.
And when shopping, you can now 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.
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