The jalapeño pepper is named for a town in Mexico called Jalapa, where the pepper was originally cultivated. Jalapeños can be either green or red depending on how long they are ripened on the plant. A green pepper will generally be milder, while the more ripe red jalapeños are typically hotter and sweeter. Green jalapeños may sometimes turn red after they have been picked, but this won’t affect the pepper’s spiciness, although it may make the pepper sweeter. The flesh and skin of the jalapeño has a very mild flavor similar to that of bell peppers, but the seeds and membranes on the interior of the pepper can be quite spicy. The spiciness of jalapeños ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 on the Scoville scale, meaning jalapeños can range from mild to hot depending on how the pepper is cultivated, and how long it is allowed to ripen before harvesting. Generally, jalapeños are sold green and will be mild or medium in terms of spiciness.
Jalapeños are popular primarily in Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes, but they are commonly used in the preparation of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. There are a variety of ways that jalapeños can be prepared, they can be used raw, grilled, pickled, made into jelly, or smoked. A smoked jalapeño is known as a chipotle, they are typically made with ripe, red jalapeños, and the smoking process gives them a unique flavor. Jalapeño poppers are a popular, spicy appetizer made with whole jalapeños that are stuffed with cream cheese, breaded, wrapped in bacon and fried. A lighter version of this treat can be made by grilling the stuffed pepper and skipping the bacon and breading. Other popular uses of the pepper include salsa, guacamole, chili, and served either fresh or pickled on nachos, burritos and other Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes.
When picking out jalapeños, the freshest peppers will be firm to the touch, and have smooth, bright green skin. The older a jalapeño gets, the more white striations will develop on the skin. This can often indicate a spicier pepper, so if milder jalapeños are desired, pick the smooth green ones. If a spicier pepper is desired, pick the green ones with a good amount of striation, or ones with red skin. Jalapeños can be safely stored at room temperature. Keeping them in the fridge will dull the flavor and they go bad just as fast in the fridge as they do on the kitchen counter. Keep in mind that jalapeños may slowly turn red the longer you store them, but this does not indicate that they are going bad, they are simply ripening. When a jalapeño becomes wrinkly, or becomes soft to the touch, it’s time to throw it away. When preparing a jalapeño, wash the skin and remove the stem by slicing off the top of the pepper. For a milder dish, removing the seeds and membranes from the pepper will greatly reduce the spiciness. The easiest way to do this is to remove the stem, slice the pepper in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and membranes with a spoon. After working with jalapeños or other spicy peppers, it is important to thoroughly wash your hands before touching your face, eyes or any other sensitive parts of the body, as the oils from the pepper can cause a great deal of irritation.