How to Identify the Spice Level of Jalapeños


Spicy and mild peppers play a vital role in enhancing the flavors of various dishes. However, distinguishing between a mild and a fiery jalapeño can often be daunting. Imagine craving that perfect balance of heat in your spicy margaritas or freshly-made salsa, only to be disappointed by the unpredictable spice level of the jalapeño you’ve chosen. But fear not because a surprising tip circulating on social media promises to revolutionize the way you select your peppers, especially jalapeños.

Decoding Pepper Spice Levels

Thanks to the culinary wisdom of Amanda Freitag, renowned chef and frequent judge on “Chopped,” a groundbreaking insight into pepper selection has emerged. Frietag’s Instagram video, which went viral over the weekend, presents an ingenious way to distinguish between mild and spicy jalapeños without even taking a bite.

The Method Unveiled

Freitag’s revelation lies in the appearance of the jalapeños. She claims that the secret to identifying their spice level lies in the stretch marks and lines that adorn the peppers. Smooth, unblemished jalapeños are likely to be milder, while those with stitches and lines resembling stretch marks are bound to be hot. The video even includes a taste test, where the pepper with stretch marks delivers an intense spiciness reminiscent of the famed “Hot Ones” challenge.

Understanding the Science

Peppers derive their spiciness from capsaicin, a compound concentrated in the area around the seeds. The more capsaicin present, the hotter the pepper tastes. Interestingly, stressors like varying water and sunlight levels and temperature fluctuations create stretch marks, lines, and flecks on the peppers’ skin as they grow. These stressors lead to higher capsaicin concentrations in the peppers, resulting in a spicier taste.

Using Appearance as a Guide

Pay close attention to their appearance to predict the spice level of jalapeños in your grocery store. The presence of white lines and marks, commonly referred to as “stretch marks,” indicates a higher likelihood of a fiery pepper. Conversely, smoother and shinier peppers stem from younger plants and are likely to be milder in taste.

Putting the Theory to the Test

To validate this method, we conducted our own experiment by purchasing two jalapeños—one with noticeable marks and another completely smooth. Upon tasting, the difference was stark. The smooth pepper exhibited a mild flavor akin to a green bell pepper, while the stretch-marked pepper lived up to its fiery reputation.

The Multifaceted Nature of Pepper Spice

While Frietag’s method holds true in many cases, it’s essential to acknowledge that several factors influence a pepper’s spice level. Commenters on Frietag’s post emphasized that elements like climate, soil type, moisture levels, and the peppers’ duration on the plant significantly impact capsaicin production. Moreover, studies have found that the temperature at which peppers grow, their position on the plant, plant age, and light intensity also contribute to capsaicin concentrations.


Although Freitag’s method is flexible, it offers a reliable guideline to aid your pepper selection process. As you embark on your culinary adventures, remember that while appearance can provide insights into a pepper’s spiciness, tasting remains the most definitive method. So, whether you’re whipping up zesty salsas or enjoying spicy margaritas, let your taste buds be your ultimate guide to the perfect pepper selection.


Incorporating this novel method into your culinary repertoire can add a new dimension of excitement and predictability to your dishes. The next time you venture to the grocery store, armed with the knowledge of stretch marks and pepper appearances, you’ll be better equipped to select the peppers that perfectly match your desired spice level. By embracing this ingenious technique, you’re taking a step toward becoming a pepper aficionado and enhancing your cooking adventures like never before. So go ahead, experiment, and relish the flavors that perfectly spiced peppers bring to your table!

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