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Predicting a Pepper’s Burn

Is there a way to tell the mild jalapeños from the spicy ones--without risking burnt tastebuds?

Is there a way to tell the mild jalapeños from the spicy ones?

Many cooks claim that the smaller the chile, the bigger the burn. To see if this was true, we gathered a dozen jalapeños of varying size and started sampling. A flood of tears later, we learned that there was no correlation between the size of the jalapeño and its heat level.

Not willing to take the pain in vain, we chose a more quantitative approach and sent a handful of similarly sized jalapeños to a lab to test their levels of capsaicin, the chemical compound responsible for their heat. Shockingly, some peppers had as much as 10 times the kick as seemingly identical peppers. Unfortunately, the only way to gauge a pepper’s burn is to try a small piece. If you want to preserve the flavor of the chile but lose some of the heat, cut away the white ribs and seeds (we like to wear gloves when handling any hot chile), which is where the capsaicin is located; the flesh of a jalapeño has just a fraction of the heat of the interior.

IT’S IN THE PREP, NOT THE PICKING While it's impossible to visually determine the heat of a jalapeño, removing the fiery ribs and seeds lessens the burn.

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