Jalapeños Not Spicy? Here May Be Why

Have you experienced a jalapeño with a surprising lack of a kick? If your jalapeños are not as spicy as expected, there are many reasons why it may be the case. Let’s break down what may be happening with your bunch.

There’s a natural heat range to jalapeños, and the low-end is milder than you think

All chili peppers have a typical range of potential heat, measured by the Scoville scale. Jalapeños have a heat range from 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), which sets it at the lower end of medium heat peppers. The floor (2,500 SHU) is not that much hotter than popular mild chilies like poblanos (1,000 to 1,500 SHU) and Anaheim chilies (500 to 2,500 SHU). If your crop naturally sits at the lower end of the range, they will taste decidedly mild compared to those at 8,000, which near serrano pepper heat (10,000 to 21,000 SHU).

What causes this range? There are many factors, including the soil they grow in, the amount of water the crop receives (less makes hotter peppers), and how long the jalapeños stay on the vine.

You may be eating an intentionally grown milder jalapeño hybrid

Ever wonder why store-bought jalapeños tend to taste milder than those you get from your garden or farmer’s market? This is why.

There are many jalapeño varieties out there, and some are hybrids that were intentionally grown to be milder than the typical heirloom jalapeño. Many supermarkets stock these hybrids as they make chilies that are more eatable for the masses. But those that love hotter jalapeños are often disappointed with the spiciness of the selection they purchase.

If you’re growing seeds from a previous crop, you may have an unintentional milder hybrid

It’s surprising to many, but you can accidentally create the potential for jalapeño hybrids in your garden if you plant peppers too close together and gather seeds from the crop for next year’s planting. Those seeds could lead to peppers that look like jalapeños but with only a fraction of the heat. It’s also why many are surprised by shockingly spicy bell peppers in the second year of planting.

The jalapeño membrane may have been removed before using

The majority of pepper heat doesn’t come from the fleshy walls of the pepper. Rather, it comes from the white membrane inside the chili. If that membrane is stripped out (along with the seeds that have some heat as well), you’ll be pulling out a significant amount of spiciness from your jalapeño.

Your jalapeños may have lost spiciness during the cooking process

Some think that the capsaicin “breaks down” during cooking, but that’s not the case. Capsaicin can handle plenty of heat without any impact on spiciness.

Instead, what typically happens is simple dilution. The jalapeños can taste less spicy when cooked with other ingredients because the spiciness distributes throughout the dish. Capsaicin is water-soluble and when jalapeños are added to a dish during cooking, that capsaicin disperses throughout watery sauces and dishes leading to a slightly less spicy pepper on the plate.

An even less spicy scenario for those jalapeños is combining them with dairy as a cooking ingredient. The protein in milk breaks down the jalapeños capsaicin leading to less spicy peppers.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 16, 2020 to include new content. It was originally published on November 29, 2019.
  • I’ve heard that jalepenos will lose spice / heat if they cross-polinate with a sweet pepper. Don’t grow them right next to a sweet pepper.

    • Hi Mark, that would be true for future generations of the seeds, not for the current plants. You could have an unintentional hybrid from future plantings of the seeds from the current crop (as per the section of the post here), if you plant sweet peppers right next to jalapeños.

    • I’m not familiar with that grocer, but some grocery stores opt for jalapeño hybrids (sold as “jalapeños”) that have been bred to be milder and bigger. They appeal more to the masses — more eatable and typically with a larger internal cavity for popper fillings.

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