The jalapeño pepper is one of the most widespread and used chillies in the world. It has Mexican origins, and its name obviously derives from the region where it was initially grown, Xalapa, in Veracruz.
In spite of its Central American origin, it is a variety of chilli that can be grown without particular difficulties in our climate, having reasonable ripening times. It can therefore give us great satisfaction to sow it or plant it in our garden or even in a pot on the balcony.
Thanks to its culinary versatility and a pleasant medium-low degree of spiciness, it quickly spread all over the world and is a key ingredient of Mexican cuisine. Let’s find out the particularities of this fruit together.
The jalapeño plant
The Mexican jalapeño pepper is a cultivar of the Capsicum Annuum species, the same as the classic sweet pepper. Originally from Xalapa, in the Mexican state of Veracriz, it is currently right there, but also near the Papaloapan River, which is intensively cultivated. More than 150 km of land are used for the exclusive production of this chili pepper which is a must for sauces and Mexican cuisine. But it has now spread to every part of the world.
The plant grows as a shrub with a height of between 50 and 110 cm. The shape of the plant tends to develop in width rather than in height. It is therefore good to leave the right space around it.
The fruit is produced in the warm months, between May and June in southern Italy. In the North, on the other hand, production can be delayed by up to a month.
It is a perennial species, which in our climate is usually cultivated as an annual, sowing it every year.
Characteristics of this chili
This typical Mexican pepper has a length that varies on average from 5 to 10 centimeters. Unlike the other fruits of the same family, it has a compact and firm pulp, a drier consistency, less thick and fleshy walls.
The interior is full of seeds, which can be reused to obtain new seedlings. The shape of the jalapeño is contained, externally its skin is smooth and regular. In Mexico it is called “fatty chilli”, due to its squat appearance.
Given the numerous varieties that have been produced over time, jalapeño comes in many colors. Between these:
- Purple Jalapeño: small variety, aesthetically very pleasing given the dark shade, tending to aubergine purple.
- Mucho Nacho Jalapeño: large variety, with fruits up to 10 cm. The fruits are initially green, and then turn towards a bright red during ripening.
- TAM Jalapeño: variety of contained form, with fruits that reach up to 8 cm in size. The hue in the ripening phase turns to classic red;
- Black Jalapeño: This variety is famous for producing fruits that turn from green to very dark purple, then turn black.
- Jalaro Jalapeño: This variety is extremely ornamental as it bears fruit in various different colors, from green to yellow, orange and red, depending on the stage of ripeness.
- Early Jalapeño: excellent variety for cultivation in geographical areas with short or mild summers, for example for those who live in the north or in mountainous areas. It produces medium-sized fruits. The peculiarity of this cultivar lies in the time elapsed between sowing and harvesting: only 60 days.
Scoville degree of spiciness
The capsaicin content of the Jalapeno Pepper, which determines its spiciness, can be influenced by several factors: first of all by the specific variety, but also by the degree of ripeness and by the cultivation method.
Generally speaking, the spiciness varies from 1,000 to 20,000 Scoville Units.
Considering the older brothers such as the Naga Morich, the Trinitad Scorpion, or the carolina reaper where the spiciness reaches the million units of Scoville, it is perfectly understood that this is a chilli pepper within everyone’s reach.
Its moderate spiciness is a characteristic that makes it particularly appreciated, making it more versatile in the kitchen.
Growing the Jalapeño pepper
The jalapeño is a cultivar of Mexican origin, so it is a plant that loves hot and very sunny positions, so if we want to grow this pepper we first of all choose a well exposed place.
Even if it does not have long ripening times like other spicy species such as capsicuum chinense (habanero, naga morich) it is still useful to anticipate sowing by using a heated seedbed.
The chili plant would be perennial, but grown in our climates it typically doesn’t survive for the next season. Therefore it is managed as an annual and cultivation continues until late autumn. Then you can keep the jalapeño seeds, as explained in the post on the how to store chili seeds, in order to have them for the next year’s vegetable garden.
The sowing of jalapeños
The sowing of these Mexican peppers requires a temperature of 22-24 degrees, with minimums that do not go below 15 ° C. For this reason, having a protected or heated seedbed, we can start at the end of February.
Those who have the hobby of chillies could also have a grow box, to manage the cultivation or a part of it, completely indoors in controlled light, ventilation and temperature conditions. In this case you are more free to further advance the sowing.
Generally the young seedling emerges from the ground within 3 weeks, but it takes longer. After all, it is nature that dictates the times, not man.
The grower must keep the potting soil moist but never soggy, often watering with a little water each time.
The seeds are put at a shallow depth, it may be worth a farmer’s trick to facilitate the birth of the seedling: soak the chili seeds 12/24 hours before sowing in a chamomile bath.
Prepare the soil and fertilize
Before planting the seedlings it is important to prepare the soil so that it is rich and draining. The ideal soil for Mexican peppers is light, airy, with a good content of organic matter and with a slightly acidic pH.
The processing can be a deep digging, even without turning the clod, and a hoeing that refines the more superficial clods.
For fertilization at the time of planting, we can give a good supply of well-ripened manure or compost, avoiding excess nitrogen, which can push the plant into the foliar apparatus, penalizing fruit production. The addition of sulfur to the fertilizer contributes to enhancing the particularly intense flavor of the fruit.
When to plant jalapeños
Our chili is planted when the climate stabilizes and there is no risk of late frosts. Depending on the area it can be April or May.
We can acclimate the plant by placing the pots outdoors before planting them, to get them accustomed to the light and outside air.
We choose a sunny place and transplant the jalapeño plant keeping a distance of at least 60 cm between one row and the other and 50 cm on the row.
Jalapeño cultivation technique
After the planting phase, the jalapeño plant must be constantly “monitored” to verify the effective attachment of the roots to the soil, providing enough water.
When the plant is now well structured, the water should be moderate, under penalty of the reduced spiciness of the fruit. However, this variety does not adapt well to periods of drought, therefore the usual rule of watering regularly but without water stagnation is perfect.
Possible diseases and parasites
Parasites such as aphids and mites can settle on the leaves of the jalapeño pepper, causing diseases of various kinds and which can lead to the death of the plant. Even the “cottony mealybugs” can make the plant sick, weakening its structural system and making it wither inexorably. We can contrast them with soft potassium soap or white oil in extreme cases.
Bedbugs are also enemies of jalapeno peppers: often it is they who contribute to the appearance of bacteria and fungi on the base of the collar. Let’s contrast them with manual harvesting or with neem oil mixed with soap.
Generally, excessive humidity and water stress are the main causes of numerous diseases. As a biological defense, cupric products are used, but it is better to focus on prevention rather than treatments.
- Insects harmful to chillies
Collection of chillies
If you are a lover of spicy, in the week before harvesting it is advisable to water the plant a little. This allows the presence of water in the fruit to decrease, increasing the concentration of capsaicin, and therefore the spiciness of the jalapeño. This will probably send the foliar apparatus into a slight crisis, but we won’t have to worry: by now the plant will have well-structured roots, and it will be enough to water with very little water, enough to keep the plant alive, until the time of harvest.
Grow jalapeño on the balcony
To grow chillies you don’t necessarily need land, you can also plant them in pots by creating your own balcony garden.
The jalapeño is a species suitable for growing in pots, it is important that it is well exposed, the ideal would be a south balcony.
We take into account in managing the spaces of the growth in width of the plant, given the natural propensity of the jalapeño to develop by widening rather than climbing.
Recipes and uses
With these Mexican peppers you can unleash your culinary creativity. In fact, there are many recipes to be made with Jalapeño, in particular in the Mexican tradition where we find it present in every sauce.
It can be eaten for example pickled or in oil, but also in brine. Those who love more elaborate dishes can enjoy the Mexican Jalapeno pepper stuffed, with cheese or meat, or grilled or baked.
The “Chipotle” recipe is very well known, which consists of drying and smoking the jalapenos with the specific type of “American walnut” wood.
Finally, how not to mention the nachos with Jalapenos and melted cheese? Delicious finger food, very often present among the appetizers of the typical Mexican menu.
Properties of jalapeño pepper
It is a spicy and very versatile food, it is even called aphrodisiac. But that’s not all: jalapeño pepper is attributed with important benefits for the body:
- Has a great anti-oxidant function; therefore it reduces the risk of the onset of tumors and free radicals in our body.
- It is an excellent ally for the intestine and for heart function.
- Relieves joint pain and, last but not least, reduces migraines, since capsaicin is a natural pain reliever.
- It has a notable contribution in vitamin C and beta-carotene.