Scientists theorize that our brains release endorphins in response to the discomfort caused by hot chiles like jalapenos. At high levels, endorphins create a sensation of pleasure.
Named for Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz, Mexico, these chile peppers range from medium to hot. They have smooth, dark green skins (red when left to ripen) and rounded tips.
A favorite among cooks for their spicy flavor, jalapenos are very easily seeded for use in recipes. When smoked and dried, jalapenos are known as chipotles.
When buying fresh, choose peppers that are firm, smooth and glossy. Dry lines are not blemishes, but signs of maturity and hotness.
Canned jalapenos are also available whole, sliced or chopped for convenience. Look for them in your grocer's Mexican food aisle.
Store fresh jalapenos in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Dried chiles can be stored in an airtight container away from light and heat for up to six months. Canned jalapenos will keep at room temperature for one year when unopened. Once opened, refrigerate for one week or freeze for up to six months.
A member of the Capsicum family, jalapenos contain capsaicin, a potent natural compound that produces an intensely hot, biting taste. Up to 80% of chile peppers' capsaicin is found in the seeds and membranes, so use extra caution when preparing them.
Wear thin rubber gloves and avoid touching your face and eyes. If you don't have gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as you're finished. If you feel a burning sensation on your skin, try soaking your hands in a bowl of milk.
Wash the peppers right before using. To slice, begin by removing the stem and cutting the pepper in half. Next, use a teaspoon to carefully remove the ribs and seeds. If stuffing, leave these half sections whole and fill. Otherwise, put the peppers cut-side down and slice as desired.
- When cooking hot peppers on the stovetop, avoid breathing the fumes as they may irritate your throat, nose and eyes.
- To rehydrate dried chiles, cover with very hot water and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Purée rehydrated chiles with a little water and add to sauces and stews for rich, fiery flavor.
- Can't take the heat? Drink or eat a capsaicin-absorbing food to temper the intensity. These include milk, tomato juice, bread, potatoes, rice, ice cream or bananas. Don't drink alcohol or water—they'll only increase capsaicin absorption and spread it to more parts of your mouth.