The jalapeño is king among hot peppers. It’s not the spiciest, but it’s definitely the most popular. You won’t find a hot pepper that’s in more recipes or grocery stores around the world. How did this pepper become such a staple? If you want to find out, keep reading!
What Jalapeños Look Like
We usually think of jalapeños as being red or green, but these aren’t the only two colors possible for this pepper. For instance, the Jaloro jalapeño is a golden yellow color. You can even get purple jalapeños! The average jalapeño pepper is about two or three inches long with a one-inch diameter. They are cone-shaped, and sometimes the bottom portion curves up like the letter “J”.
There are many variations of this classic hot chili pepper, each with slightly different tastes, appearances, and cultivation needs. Here are some of the most popular varieties:
- Mucho nacho jalapeño—this jalapeño is longer than the traditional jalapeño, with the average pepper measuring four inches long. You’ll taste some extra smokiness in this variety, but not as much heat.
- Fresno chili—this is a milder jalapeño, with the average pepper measuring only three hundred to four hundred Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It takes these peppers more time to grow, but they usually end up being only about two inches long.
- Sierra Fuego—this pepper also takes a longer amount of time to reach maturity, typically eighty days or so. But, if you’re patient, you’ll end up with an abundant pepper bush! Sierra Fuego bushes produce more pods than the average jalapeño bush. This pepper turns from green to red and is a milder jalapeño.
- Senorita—this is one of the hotter jalapeños, usually measuring 5,000 SHU. When fully ripe after about eighty days, you can expect these peppers to be bright red.
- Purple jalapeño—Another exceptionally spicy pepper, twice as hot as the regular jalapeño! Despite the extra heat, there’s also a little more sweetness.
- Coolapeno— This hybrid is often touted as a “heatless jalapeño.” If you’re strongly opposed to hot foods, but you still want to experience the hype of the jalapeño, you actually can!
History of the Jalapeño
Even though jalapeños are an extremely common a variety of hot pepper today, this wasn’t always the case. You used to have a hard time hunting down these chilies without stopping by a specialty shop. Now people from every country can’t get enough of the jalapeño pepper. In fact, one-fourth of the world population eats at least one jalapeño every day!
The jalapeño gets in name from Jalapa, Mexico (also known as Xalapa, Mexico) where it first started growing. However, the pepper is no longer grown commercially in that area. Ancient Aztecs were the first people to use the jalapeño, but it did not become a global sensation until Columbus spread hot peppers around the world in 1492.
Even though it is no longer being produced in Jalapa, most jalapeños grow in Mexico, especially Chihuahua. You can also find jalapeños in India, China, Spain, and Peru. The United States produces some jalapeños, with crops growing in New Mexico, Texas, and California. Texas even declared the jalapeño its state pepper. In February, the state celebrates the Jalapeño Festival as part of Washington’s Birthday Celebration in the city of Laredo.
Want to grow your own peppers? Plant your jalapeños in the spring or summer. These peppers prefer full sun for six to eight hours a day. You should plant your seeds eighteen to twenty-four inches apart, as the plants usually grow to be twenty-four to forty-eight inches tall. You can harvest a jalapeño bush a few times before the growing season is finished. The average jalapeño bush will grow twenty-five to thirty jalapeños.
Jalapeños grow best in relatively high heats of seventy to eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. They should have plenty of drainage. Although they must be watered regularly, be careful not to overwater them. It takes about seventy days for these peppers to fully ripen. Green and red are not different varieties of peppers. Green peppers turn into red ones, and sometimes the color change can occur after you’ve picked the pepper. Although there isn’t any difference in heat between the two colors, the red peppers taste fruitier than green ones.
Picking the Perfect Jalapeño
If you see some dry lines on your jalapeño, don’t be alarmed. It doesn’t mean the pepper has gone bad. These are spots where heat and flavor are especially concentrated. Look for the peppers that are firm and wrinkle-free. The smoother the jalapeño skin, the milder you can expect the heat to be. Make sure you eat these peppers fast because they go bad after just seven to ten days. Keep them in a cooler environment of forty to fifty degrees Fahrenheit to preserve their flavor and avoid their going bad for as long as possible. The best way to store them is in the top of your fridge, individually wrapped in paper towels.
Jalapeños are a staple in Latin American cuisine. You’ll also find them in Thai and Tex-Mex dishes. These peppers are delicious grilled and stuffed. While other peppers are too hot to be eaten whole, the jalapeño pepper is perfect! It’s great breaded or fried or, if you’re feeling really brave, eaten raw. You’ll commonly find them in salsas or guacamole. They are delicious smoked, dried, or pickled. The famously spicy Sriracha hot sauce has jalapeños as an ingredient.
Jalapeño and chipotle are actually the same pepper, despite their different flavor profiles. When a ripe jalapeño is smoked until it is extremely dry, it results in chipotle. This smoky chili is essential for adobo. Of course, this is also the namesake for the fast-food restaurant chain Chipotle, which serves Mexican cuisine.
On the Scoville scale, jalapeños generally measure between 2,500 and 8,000 units. This may be bold for heat amateurs, but for the experienced chili head, this isn’t very high, especially in comparison to habaneros, scotch bonnets, ghost chilies, and other hotter peppers. But this lower Scoville rank makes them much easier to eat and cook with. Unlike some of the spicier peppers, jalapeños are available at most grocery stores. If the jalapeño is still too spicy for you, you can remove the seeds and the inner membrane of the pepper.
Jalapeño Health Benefits
Not only is the jalapeño delicious, but it’s also good for you. Jalapeños are filled with vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, B6, C, and K. You can get some of your daily fiber, folate, and magnesium. Additionally, jalapeños are rich with antioxidants.
Every chili pepper is filled with capsaicin—and the jalapeño is no exception. This is the source of the pepper’s heat, and it has numerous health benefits of its own. Capsaicin promotes weight loss, boosts your immune system, and triggers endorphin and dopamine production.
As one of the world’s favorite chili pepper, the jalapeño has nothing to prove. But its fame continues to rise alongside the consumption of other hot peppers. If you’re wanting to venture into the exciting realm of spicy foods, the jalapeño is the perfect pepper to start with! Even if you don’t like extreme heat, you can probably still tolerate this chili and enjoy its smoky flavor.
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