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When shopping at a supermarket or a farmers market, how can I tell which jalapeños to take home? I want them hot and ready rock that very day. Do they get hotter off the vine? Is a ripe jalapeño a hot jalapeño? Does shape affect hotness (or the other way around)?

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I'm interested in this too. There's such a wide variation in the capsaicin levels of jalapenos. I'd be surprised if there was a way to tell externally though... –  Jergstar Aug 17 '12 at 0:11
    
There isn't... but since you can't prove a negative, there isn't really a source to back that up. –  sarge_smith Aug 17 '12 at 3:02
    
The BIG ones are likely some variant on the TAM Mild Jalapeño en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAM_Mild_Jalape%C3%B1o They are NOT very hot. –  Wayfaring Stranger Aug 17 '12 at 14:38
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2 Answers

The primary conditions affecting hotness (capsaicin production) are genetic and environmental. Stressed plants generally produce more capsaicin than non-stressed plants, all other things being equal. This is why some weeks you'll go the the grocery and get jalapenos that are quite mild, and other weeks some peppers that look identical will rip your face off. The difference is probably that they were grown in different regions of the country and under different conditions.

What I usually do is buy more peppers than I immediately need. Then, if they're not particularly spicy, I can add more, and if they're "good" ones, then I'll know approximately how hot the remaining peppers are, and can make other dishes with them.

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Except that when I buy them at the grocery store, I can get mild and hot peppers all at the same time. So if you want that consistancy of growing conditions, it's better to buy at a farmer's market where peppers are all from one source, instead of a grocery where they are from who knows where. –  thursdaysgeek Aug 20 '12 at 20:23
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First, Jalapenos do not ripen once picked. No pepper does.

Red jalapenos are actually ripe and have more flavor, although they are not, in my experience, any hotter than the standard green, slightly-less-than-ripe, jalapenos.

There is no relationship between shape and capsaicin content that I know of. So, mostly you're just trying to get jalapenos which are as freshly-picked as possible: no bruised spots, no spots or mold, stems not shriveled, etc.

Also, note that the seeds and membrane inside the jalapeno contain most of its capsaicin, so if you're looking for hot, do not remove those.

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Seeds do not contain capsaicin only the membrane, but usually lots of the membrane is removed together with the seeds, so the confusion. And from my experience chilli peppers will ripen a bit after being picket, at least they may get some red colour. But I would not rely on that. Green peppers are often even better (crispy!). :) –  Jacek Konieczny Aug 17 '12 at 10:56
    
@Jacek Konieczny all parts of the pepper contain capsaicin, in many varieties there is a higher concentration in the membrane and sometimes also on the seeds –  TFD Aug 17 '12 at 11:01
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@TFD: from the study published here: publikace.k.utb.cz/handle/10563/1001918 (first one found): „In general, the highest capsaicin concentrations are found in the ovary and in the lower flesh and the lowest capsaicin content can be found in seeds. These results are in a good agreement with the common knowledge of pepper consumers regarding the pungency of different parts of pepper fruit.” – so I guess the capsaicin content in seeds may be negligible… though, it is hard to clean the seed of the particles from the hottest parts of the fruit. –  Jacek Konieczny Aug 17 '12 at 11:09
    
@FuzzyChef: this answer to a question I asked a while back says that jalapenos Do ripen off the vine. –  Cos Callis Aug 17 '12 at 12:04
    
Downvoted due to a few factual inaccuracies in here ie. ripening off the vine & capsaicin content in seeds. –  SamtheBrand Aug 17 '12 at 14:24
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