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Pepper Profile: Jalapeño PDF Print E-mail

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Jalapeño Chiles

The Plant

Agriculture

Culinary Usage

Recipe: Jalapeño Cherry Bombs

The Plant

This chile was named after the city of Xalapa in Veracruz, Mexico, where it is no longer commercially grown.

This chile pepper is a pod type of Capsicum annuum. Jalapeños usually grow from 2 ½ to 3 feet tall. Jalapeños have a compact single stem or upright, multibranched, spreading habit. The leaves are light to dark green and measure about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. The flower corollas are white with no spots. The pods, which are conical and cylindrical, are pendant and measure about 2 to 3 inches long and 1 inch wide. They are green (occasionally sunlight will cause purpling), maturing to red, and measure between 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville Units. The brown streaks, or "corking" on the pods are desirable in Mexico but not so in the U.S.

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Agriculture

In Mexico, commercial cultivation measures approximately 40,000 acres in three main agricultural zones: the Lower Palaloapan River Valley in the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, northern Veracruz, and the area around Delicias, Chihuahua. The later region grows the American jalapeños, which are processed and exported into the U.S. Approximately 60% of the Mexican jalapeño crop used for processing, 20% for fresh consumption, and 20% in production of chipotle chiles, smoked jalapeños.

In the United States, approximately 5,500 acres is under cultivation, with Texas the leading state for jalapeño production, followed by New Mexico. Home gardeners should remember that the U.S. varieties of jalapeños flourish better in semi-arid climates--ones with dry air combined with irrigation. If planted in hot and humid zones in the U.S. during the summer, the yield of such jalapeños decreases and so Mexican varieties should be grown. The growing period is 70 to 80 days, and the yield is about 25 to 35 pods per plant.

Recommended Mexican varieties are 'Típico' and 'Peludo'; recommended U.S. varieties are 'Early Jalapeño' (hot) and 'TAM Jalapeño' (mild).

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Culinary Usage

Jalapeños are one of the most famous chile peppers. They are instantly recognizable and a considerable mythology has sprung up about them, particularly in Texas. The impetus for the popularity of jalapeños starts from a combination of their unique taste, their heat, and their continued use as a snack food.

In 1956, Newsweek magazine published a story on a pepper-eating contest held in the Bayou Teche country of Louisiana, near the home of the famous Tabasco sauce. The article rated the jalapeño as "the hottest pepper known," more fiery than the "green tabasco" or "red cayenne." Thus the Tex-Mex chile was launched as the perfectly pungent pepper for jalapeño-eating contests, which have proliferated all over the country.

Many jalapeños are used straight out of the garden in salsas. Others are pickled in escabeche and sold to restaurants and food services for sale in their salad bars. Jalapeños are processed as "nacho slices," and "nacho rings" that are served over nachos, one of the most popular snack foods in arenas and ball parks. Jalapeños are commonly used in commercial salsas and picante sauces, which process a large percentage of the imports from Mexico.

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Sliced Jalapeños

Essential for Nachos: Sliced Jalapeños

Recipe: Jalapeño Cherry Bombs

These little explosions make perfect appetizers for chilehead guests.

  • 24 jalapeño chiles
  • 8 ounces Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, sliced
  • Flour for dredging
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Vegetable oil for deep-fat frying

Slit each pepper, remove the seeds with a small spoon or knife and stuff the peppers with pieces of cheese. If necessary, insert a toothpick to hold the chiles together.

Dip each stuffed chile in the flour, then the egg, then the flour again. Fry in 350 degree F. oil until the chiles are golden brown. Drain and Serve.

Variations: Stuff the chiles with cooked chorizo, or cooked ground meat mixed with cheese.

Yield: 24

Heat Scale: Medium to Hot

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