What Are Jalapeño Peppers?

Jalapeño peppers (pronounced “hal-a-PAY-nyo”) are medium-sized chile peppers with a mild to moderate amount of heat, used to flavor everything from salsa to chili to salad dressing. Evidence of the earliest cultivation can be traced to the Mexican state of Veracruz, and the name jalapeño comes from Xalapa, the capital city. Still widely associated with Mexican cuisine, they are now grown worldwide and appear in fusion cuisine from Africa to Asia to the American South.


What Are Jalapeños?

Jalapeños, a member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes, get their heat from capsaicin, a chemical compound concentrated in the white pithy ribs of a pepper. Like most hot peppers, jalapeños vary in spiciness based on many growing factors, including the amount of sunlight and the pH level of the soil. Jalapeño peppers register between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville scale. Most commonly associated with Mexican cuisine, they fall between poblanos and habaneros on the heat index, and are typically among the least expensive of the fresh peppers at the grocery store.

How to Use Jalapeños

Fresh jalapeños can be chopped, sliced, or diced, depending on your intended use. Prep a small dice to spread the heat evenly throughout a salsa or salad dressing. Slice jalapeño rings when you want to concentrate the heat into a bite, such as on nachos. You can reduce the heat level by removing the ribs and seeds. But use caution when working with fresh jalapeños—the oils can get on your fingers and cause discomfort if you touch your eye, nose, or other areas with sensitive skin.

Because they are relatively mild, jalapeño peppers can be eaten whole. Jalapeños stuffed with cheese, then breaded and deep-fried, are a popular appetizer in Mexican restaurants in the United States. Jalapeños can be pickled and served as a condiment, or roasted to tame the heat and bring out a slight sweetness. Prepared this way, they are a common topping for nachos and tacos. In addition, minced jalapeños are widely used in making salsas, sauces, and bottled hot sauces. Jalapeño peppers can be dried and smoked, in which case they are called chipotles. Ground chipotles can be used as a spice, and you can often find chipotles canned in adobo sauce in the Mexican food section of the grocery store, which makes a flavorful addition to chili or smoky addition to plain rice.

What Are Jalapeño Peppers?

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