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When you think about Mexican cuisine, you probably think about that awesome hit of spice and that warmth that stays with you for hours. That means you’re thinking of the jalapeño, Mexico’s own pepper. We all know how great that little green burst of flavour and heat tastes in our favourite burritos, nachos and quesadillas, but how much do you know about the pepper itself?

We’re here to tell you, it’s some fascinating stuff.

People have been eating the jalapeño for thousands of years, and it is as much a staple of the Mexican diet as rice, corn, or tomatoes. Its name means, literally, “from Jalapa,” which is the city in Mexico where it was first cultivated.

The jalapeño has been a popular pepper choice for thousands of years because, while it does have that bite of heat that you want from a good, spicy pepper, it’s relatively tame and most people who don’t usually like overly spicy things can also enjoy the texture and warmth that it brings to food. Fun fact – on the official rating system for peppers, the Scoville Heat Units system, it’s considered to be about as spicy as Mexico’s other favourite pepper, the chipotle, and about about 1/600th of the heat of the world’s most spicy peppers, such as Pepper X and Dragon’s Breath.

What to look for in a jalapeño

There are several variations to the jalapeño, but if you want the authentic “real deal” – the jalapeño with the crispy crunch and precise right amount of heat – then you should be looking for a thick, short-length pepper of about 3-4 inches (the jalapeño’s nickname is “fat chili” for this shape). The traditional jalapeño is quite a consistent pepper, so they’ll usually look about the same, and the real deal will also have “heirloom” seeds, so be sure to look out for them. Some of the alternate varieties of jalapeño, that have been cross-bred or hybridised, will not have those seeds.

That original, authentic jalapeño remains world-famous and very much in demand. Mexico alone has around 70,000 acres of land that is dedicated to growing and cultivating them – that works out at over 20 million pounds of incredible spice per year! The pepper is also produced in large quantities in Texas and New Mexico in the US – the jalapeño grows best in the specific climate of that region.

We grow them here in Australia, too! Australia has had jalapeño farms since the late 1980s when the first seeds were successfully imported into Australia. Victoria is the homeland for Australian jalapeños.

So, the next time you order your favourite burrito or nachos from Mad Mex, why not consider throwing on some extra jalapeños, and celebrating your love for authentic Mexican cuisine with this rich, flavourful, and spicy (but not too spicy) treat?