Drink Magazine

Ingredient Spotlight: Jalapeño

By Lucasryden @saborkitchen

Latin food without chili peppers is like Tom without Jerry.  Tide without bleach.  Chilies are essential ingredients in all Latin cuisine, providing the spicy heat we associate with X-rated salsas and the glorified breasts of so many Latina women.   The variety of chili peppers is astounding.  There’s over 3000 recorded varieties, not to mention the other 3000 that remain under the Western radar, used strictly by the local and indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

That being said, let’s start with the most popular variety here in Southern California.  The one most of us, even the snow-white soccer mom in yoga pants, can identify with.  Let’s talk jalapeño.

ingredient spotlight: jalapeño


The word jalapeño is of Nahuatl and Spanish origin, originating in Xalapa, the capital of the state of Veracruz in Mexico. Here, about 40,000 acres of land are dedicated to the cultivation of this infamous chili.  Although production is not limited to the Xalapa region, jalapeños tends to grow best here.  Once picked, some jalapeños turn red with age.  The level of heat, however, remains constant.


It turns out the spicy flavor we detect (and sometimes fear) in jalapeños is actually pretty good for us.  Capsaicin is the active chemical found in all chili peppers that is responsible for their spiciness.  It stimulates a receptor in our sensory neurons that creates a heat sensation, which then leads to reactions like redness and sweating.  Studies suggest capsaicin can actually increase our metabolism, through an extremely complicated and long-winded process called thermogenesis.  I won’t go into details here (i.e. I still don’t really understand it) but if you want the medical definition, read this article.

Other studies have suggested that the healthiest cultures in the world are the ones that eat the most spicy foods.  Capsaicin can fight inflammation and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, minimizing the risk of heart disease and heart attack.  According to the American Association for Cancer Research, the spicy chemical compound also has the potential to kill cancer and leukemic cells.  Basically, capsaicin is the miracle drug you’ve all been waiting for.


The jalapeño adds a unique piquancy to a variety of Latin dishes, from fresh salsas to slow-simmered stews, and everything in between. They have 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units, which translates to “pretty damn hot” in English. Some are spicier than others, depending on the age and color of each chili (red is milder, wrinkles mean extra heat).  The “spicy” aroma that cooks so often seek is actually embedded in the membrane of the seeds inside the pepper itself. During preparation, many chefs prefer to wear gloves to minimize skin irritation.  We refer to them as pansies.  You don’t need gloves, for Christ’s sake.  Just don’t rub your eyes.  Unless you feel like crying.


so.cal ceviche
stuffed jalapeños
watermelon gazpacho
papaya mint salad
arroz con pollo
crock pot carnitas
mexican pickles
quinoa + black bean pilaf
jalapeño vinaigrette
watermelon salsa
mango avocado salsa
avocado margarita

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