- The majority of the U.S. commercial jalapeño supply is grown in New Mexico, Texas, and California, but many small farms throughout the southwest grow peppers for sale to local markets. Jalapeños are also imported to the U.S., and imported peppers were the source of a large SalmonellaSaintpaul outbreak in 2008.
- Peppers are often an ingredient used in making fresh salsa and guacamole. Their role in foodborne illness outbreaks, therefore, may not have been fully credited in the past. Between 1973 and 2008, 136 outbreaks associated with salsa or guacamole were reported, with over 5600 total illnesses.
- During the growing season, a pepper plant will be harvested multiple times overall, producing about 25 to 35 pods per plant.
- The Scovolle ‘heat test’ is used to determine how hot a pepper is, and jalapeños can range from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville ‘heat units’. Jalapeños seeds are called picante and are used to add a spicy flavor to many cuisines.
- Chipotles are ripened jalapeños which have been smoked to dry and preserve the pepper.
The jalapeño pepper is a medium-sized chili pepper. Mature jalapeños are 2 to 3 inches in length and are typically picked and consumed while still green. Occasionally, they are allowed to fully ripen and turn red in color.
The basic anatomy of a jalapeño pepper includes the exocarp, mesocarp, endocarp, placenta, and seeds. The exocarp is the outer layer of the pepper known as the skin. The mesocarp is located in the center of the pepper and holds most of the absorbed water, while also providing structural support for the pepper. The endocarp is the membrane layer surrounding the seeds of the pepper. Capsaicin is produced by the capsaicin glands of the jalapeño pepper, which are located between the placenta and the endocarp. The highest concentration of capsaicin is found closer to the seeds of the pepper. Although the seeds can absorb some capsaicin, contrary to popular belief, the seeds themselves do not produce it. The seeds are an edible part of the pepper; however, they contain little capsaicin and are not a contributor to the flavor profile. The calyx or crown is where the pepper sprouts and the pod begins to develop. The apex has the least amount of capsaicin and thus contributes the least amount of heat.
Scoville Scale (Heat)
The overall amount of heat a pepper contains is determined by the “Scoville scale,” which is a measurement of heat or pungency designed to measure capsaicin sensitivity. The Scoville heat unit (SHU) scale is not precise but is a method to measure capsaicinoid concentration. Normal capsaicin concentration is estimated to be ~18mM/SHU.
Capsicum is derived from the Greek word, kapos, “to bite”. The heat comes from a group of alkaloid chemicals called capsaicinoids, principally capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin. These oily compounds are very soluble in fat and alcohol, but insoluble in water. Capsaicin is often used for relieving pain from shingles (Herpes zoster) and diabetic nerve degeneration. The heat produced from the capsaicin triggers the hypothalamus gland to begin cooling thus, capsaicin is used as a natural cooling agent when applied exteriorly. Capsaicin ointments are available for the relief of sore muscle and arthritis pain.
Common Jalapeño Varieties
The Señorita jalapeño pepper appears dark green in color, eventually turning purple and finally red when left on the vine until mature. The plant grows to nearly two feet high. The pepper pod typically grows three inches long and one and a half inches wide. The maturity period for these peppers is 80 days from seed to harvest. The Señorita pepper is very hot and typically registers 5,000 SHU on the Scoville scale.
The Fresno Chile jalapeño pepper is closely related to the Señorita pepper. However, it takes less time to grow to maturity and produces smaller, milder fruit. The peppers are small in size, measuring only about two inches in length. On the Scoville scale, these peppers are registered as mild, reaching only 300–400 SHU.
The Sierra Fuego jalapeño pepper is a hybrid which produces a large amount of peppers per plant. This pepper measures three and half inches long and one and a half inches wide when mature, which typically takes 80 days. The pepper is mildly hot and grows from dark green in color to red with maturity.
The Mucho Nacho jalapeño pepper is a fast-maturing hybrid. The plant can reach full maturity in 68 days, from seed to harvest. The peppers from this plant are longer in length, at about four inches. This pepper is known for its large size and for being flavorful without having excessive heat.
Jalapeño peppers are susceptible to microbial contamination via irrigation water or improper handling and have been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks. Most notably, a Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak in 2008 was linked to raw produce, including jalapeño and serrano peppers, which involved more than 1500 cases of salmonellosis. Forty-three states, the district of Columbia, and Canada were affected in the outbreak. Contaminated produced was eventually traced back to suppliers from Mexico; however, the specific farms were never identified. At least 286 persons were hospitalized, and two deaths were reported. Cases ranged from <1–99 years old (median 33 years), and persons aged 20–29 years had the highest incidence.
An outbreak of type B botulism was linked to commercially canned hot peppers in 1973. It was determined the peppers, which tend to be neutral in pH, were not properly acidified before processing.
In 1977, improperly home-canned jalapeño peppers were responsible for another type B botulism outbreak in which 59 people became ill. All cases dined at the same Mexican restaurant and had eaten the restaurant’s homemade hot sauce.
Peppers are often an ingredient used in making fresh salsa and guacamole, and their role in foodborne illness outbreaks may not have been fully credited in the past. Between 1973 and 2008, 136 outbreaks related to salsa or guacamole were reported, with over 5600 total illnesses.
Jalapeños and other hot pepper varieties grow best in well-drained, sandy, loam soil (soil consisting of approximately equal parts sand, silt, and clay). In addition to the texture and consistency of the soil, jalapeño producers also monitor the pH levels and soil nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium). Pepper plants grow optimally in slightly-acidic soil with a pH between 6.0–6.8. The soil can be supplemented with starter solutions of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to ensure rapid growth after the transplantation. Plants that do not grow rapidly enough will begin to bloom and fruit set, leaving small or stunted plants. Stunted plants will produce lower yields and can be less robust against the weather.
Planting and Irrigation
Jalapeños peppers can be planted in the spring (March–April) or fall (late July–August), by direct seeding or by transplanting. Direct seeding in the spring generally occurs once soil temperatures are above 60 ℉, whereas direct seeding in the fall typically occurs approximately 120 days prior to the first frost. Transplanting, the more common of the two methods, should occur after the last frost in the spring and approximately 85–100 days prior to the first frost in the fall. Transplanting is often preferred over direct seeding due to easier weed control, more consistent fruit set, and reduced seed cost.
Prior to transplanting, jalapeño plants are usually grown in greenhouses. After about 4 to 6 weeks of growth, they are transplanted either by hand or machine into the fields. Transplanted peppers are typically spaced 12 to 16 inches apart in rows with approximately 36 inches between them. For direct seeding methods, seeds are planted in raised beds with an average of 2 to 6 inches between seedlings.
Pepper varieties are warm climate crops and can be highly sensitive to extreme weather exposure. Optimum fruit set yields are the best when the temperature stays within the range of 65–80 ℉. Jalapeños and chili peppers tend to be more robust than bell pepper plants and can maintain proper growth and fruit set at higher temperatures. For jalapeño growth specifically, the combination of hot days (85–95 ℉) with cool nights (65–70 ℉) provides the optimal environment for high fruit yield.
Jalapeño crops require moderate to high amounts of water, depending on the surrounding environment. In more humid areas, moisture stressing the seedlings 25–30 days after planting can facilitate better root development. In drier climates, moisture stressing seedlings might not have the same effect. For commercial jalapeño production, overhead and drip irrigation are the two most common methods used for watering crops. Proper irrigation is crucial to these warm-climate plants to maintain consistent soil moisture. Pepper plants can have a difficult time recovering from drought and under watering can cause shedding of flowers and fruit. Over watering can cause root-rotting and growth of plant-harming organisms.
Harvesting and Handling
For spring jalapeño planting, harvest will occur in June. For fall planting, harvest will begin in October and last until the first frost. Time until harvest will also vary depending on whether the jalapeños were grown through direct seeding or transplanting. Harvest for direct seeded crops will occur approximately 110–120 days after planting, whereas transplanted crops will be ready after approximately 75–85 days. Fully-mature jalapeños should have a firm, glossy, green skin with solid pods approximately two to two and half inches in length. The AgriLife Extension at the Texas A&M Department of Horticulture advises that crop yield will be maximized if harvest is postponed until 5–10% of the fruit have turned red. Peppers are graded and divided into two categories: market grade and processing grade. Market grade jalapeños are sold fresh in grocery stores and can be sold with the stem on. Processing grade jalapeños are required to have the stem removed. On average, 8–10 tons per acre of jalapeños and other hot pepper varieties can be harvested. To ensure integrity and quality of the jalapeño, it is necessary to maintain proper holding temperatures. Peppers are sensitive to injury if held in temperatures below 45 ℉.They can be optimally maintained at 50–55 ℉ in 80% humidity for two to three weeks.
For more information regarding the production and distribution of Jalapeño Peppers please visit the Produce Point of Origin Database.
Like any other fruit or vegetable, peppers can be contaminated by pathogens from soil, water, animals, or human sources. Peppers need to be washed with cool, clean water and dried with paper towels prior to eating or preparing. Some commercially-produced jalapeños may have a light food grade wax applied on the outside of the pepper to reduce moisture loss, prevent bruising during shipment and storage, and extend shelf life. This wax can be removed by lightly scrubbing.
Jalapeños should be stored wrapped in paper towels on an upper shelf in the refrigerator. Jalapeño peppers should last up to three weeks in this type of storage.
Jalapeños are susceptible to chilling injury. The optimal storage environment is 40–45 °F in a commercial setting, and 40 °F or below in a retail or home refrigerator and high relative humidity (90–95 percent). Wrinkled skin is a sign of an overripe jalapeños
Gloves should be worn while handling hot peppers. The eyes, nose, and mouth areas are prone to irritation from capsaicin content. If exposed to capsaicin while handling or preparing jalapeños, the area should be rinsed immediately with water or a milk-soaked towel applied over the area. Additionally, the heat intensity of jalapeños can be lowered during preparation by cutting open the jalapeños and removing the veins and seeds. Soaking in salt water for at least one hour will decrease the heat even more.
Consumer demand for chili peppers in the United States increased between 1995-2005 due to changes in the American diet, a desire for new flavors, and overall diversification of the population. From 1995 to 2005, the consumption of chili peppers increased by 38% from an average of 4.3 pounds per person from 1993 to 1995 to 5.9 pounds per person from 2003 to 2005. However, chili production in the United States has experienced a decrease since 2014. In 2019 the United States harvested 10,200 acres of jalapenos valued at 63.7 million dollars, which was down from 2014 with 19,100 acres harvested valued at 216.1 million dollars.
More information on keeping peppers stored safely can be located at FoodKeeper App.
The nutritional properties of peppers range greatly depending on the variety and maturity. A one-cup serving of sliced, raw jalapeños contains only 27 calories, mostly from carbohydrates and some protein. A single serving also contains 14% of the daily requirement of Vitamin A, 66% Vitamin C, 1% Calcium and 4% Iron. Red peppers contain lycopene and have been shown to reduce the risk for certain types of cancers. Red peppers are also a source of vitamin B6. Bell peppers have a high concentration of beta-carotene which has been shown to reduce the risk for macular degeneration and cataracts. Green peppers also contain fiber, folate, and Vitamin K.
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