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Thanks to the book Truly Mexican, I've recently gotten into making cooked Mexican sauces like Adobos, Moles and Pipians. However, my sweetie is unable to tolerate anything above a mild zing in hot pepper flavor.

I've found it very difficult to calibrate the recipes to make them have a little bit of hotness, but not so much that she can't eat them. The other night I made a green pipian, and removed the seeds from the jalopenos to make them less hot ... but succeeded in removing all hot pepper flavor from the recipe entirely. Then I made an adobo which seemed OK until it sat for an hour, but then became too spicy for her to eat.

Tasting the peppers or the paste while it's still raw isn't very effective because peppers often get milder or hotter during cooking.

Does anyone have tips, ratios, or tricks they use to make cooked Mexican sauces which have zing but are not too spicy?

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Nobody can give you ratios. Peppers vary wildly in hotness; even two fruits on the same plant can be completely different in taste. A ratio based on a pepper type would be useless. –  rumtscho Mar 5 '12 at 11:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Tasting the peppers is absolutely the only way, short of a chromatography machine. This is especially true for jalapeños from grocery. This because, as stated on this site here and in other answers by myself and others, pepper spiciness can vary greatly even on the same plant. Accordingly, chiles mixed possibly from plants, even from different harvests or suppliers, cannot be expected to have any reliable consistency of spiciness.

My approach is to pre-dice and freeze in batches. I use baggies, but another approach mentioned on this site here.

NOTE: The applicable advantage to this approach is that if you cook using the chiles often enough to warrant this approach, the heat level will be more consistent batch-to-batch.


My preservation process goes something like this:

  • Purchase many fresh chiles at once depending on what you will use in 3-6 months. (I use 25 to 50)
  • Sample the heat of each pepper during the preservation process
  • Dice the peppers (de-seed beforehand if desired)
  • Segregate into three groups:
    • Mild / non-spicy
    • Killer-blazing hot
    • Normal (everything in-between)
  • Freeze into single-use sized baggies (~1¢ each, non-zip)
    • Place the smaller baggies into a larger gallon-sized zip-type freezer bag (~15¢ each) labeled with the spice level of pepper type, date processed, and heat level the contents.

Though I always keep seeds because I want the spice, this approach can be used with or without a de-seeding stage in the process. Another perhaps applicable note is that IME, without seeds, jalapeños spiciness falls within a narrowed range.

To reiterate in summary, one advantage here beyond preservation and availability is that as you have the three piles of diced chiles, the spice heat level of each batch segment tends to be nicely consistent.

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What's hot to one person is mild to another, experience is the only thing which will help you. Sure you can use the remove all and add later method however unless you're adding the specific parts of the chilli that you left out then you're essentially making a different recipe, not all chillis are the same.

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It's not the seeds that are hot, it's the pith/membrane that holds the seeds. This was covered in a previous question

Definitions of "mild zing" vary a lot, but in my experience, the only way to really be safe is to attempt to remove all the heat. You can then add a little bit back using a concentrated hot sauce at the end. Hot is hot (it's all just capsaicin), so it won't affect the flavor. In general it's just really hard to precisely control heat otherwise, since you essentially have to remove almost all of the hot parts of the peppers.

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