How to tell if your jalapeño is too hot just by looking at it

sliced green jalapeno peppers

I recently heard that you can figure out how spicy your jalapeño is — before you even bite into it. Naturally, I wanted to try this trick out, and I knew just who to wrangle for my experiment.

As a rule, my husband sits down at a Mexican restaurant and orders whatever dish is closest to a four-alarm fire. Then he asks for the spiciest hot sauce available. Would he like to test out this new jalapeño information? Why yes, he was happy to oblige.

The Trick

According to chefs and other food experts, here’s the trick for figuring out the spiciness of a jalapeño by sight: Just eyeball the outside of it. A jalapeño with smooth, green skin will be less spicy; but if its skin has certain telltale markings, you can expect fireworks on your tongue.

What are those telltale markings? Well, you should look for small white specks or lines that run down the length of the pepper.

The white marks indicate that the pepper plant has gone through some stressful times, like when water is infrequent — and there appears to be a link between stress and spiciness in peppers. The lines also show their age.

“These lines occur on more mature peppers, which are the ones that have stayed on the vines longer,” Carla Contreras, a professional chef, food stylist and photographer, told The Spruce Eats,

Contreras explained that most grocery stores sell peppers that have been picked a bit too early, before they’re fully ripe.

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And boy, can I vouch for that! I had to go to three supermarkets (Kroger, Sam’s Club and Publix) before I finally found a jalapeño with tiny white lines. And even the one I found at Publix only had lines at the bottom of the pepper.

Jennifer Kizer for Simplemost

Trying Out the Trick

I brought my jalapeños home and cut off the tips. Then I took a slice from the middle of each pepper. The hottest part of a pepper, by the way, is the placenta, or the pith and ribs — not the seeds, as some believe.

Then I handed my husband a slice of the smooth, green jalapeño. He chewed it several times, swallowed and vehemently nodded.

“Yes! That’s spicy!” he cried.

“Oh, no,” I thought. “That was supposed to be the not-spicy one.”

My husband ate a slice of cheddar cheese to cool down his tongue. (Cheese and other dairy products contain a chemical called casein, which can counteract capsaicin’s spiciness.)

Then he watched half an inning of an Atlanta Braves game and popped the second one in his mouth.

He didn’t even get up — just calmly chewed, swallowed and shrugged.

“Tastes like a bell pepper,” he said. “Not spicy at all.”

And that was the one with the white lines!

Jennifer Kizer for Simplemost

The Verdict

Did my husband debunk the idea that a smooth-skinned jalapeño is less spicy than one with white lines? Not necessarily. There’s another factor that experts say helps to determine the heat level of jalapeños, and that’s size. When I bought the two jalapeños, the only white-lined one I was able to find was significantly smaller than the smooth ones.

And according to Rachael Ray, the bigger the jalapeño, the hotter it is. So there you have it, jalapeño fans. What we learned here is that whatever the skin looks like, size does matter.

MORE: Can you open (and eat) food before you buy it at the grocery store?

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About the Author
Jennifer Graham Kizer
Jennifer Graham Kizer has written features and essays for over a dozen magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Health, Parents, Parenting, Redbook and TV Guide.

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