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Hot News: Life Without Jalapeņos

Hot News: Life Without Jalapeņos

The FDA just announced that a bacterial strain found on fresh jalapeņos in a Texas distribution plant matched the strain responsible for the recent  salmonella outbreak. Darn. Not only will this have major repercussions for people in the pepper and salsa business–but it is going to leave a gaping culinary void in my summer eating habits as my local farmers don’t seem to be in the jalapeņo business!

I didn’t really care about the salmonella warnings for tomatoes. I mean, I am very sorry for the people who got sick, and for the tomato farmers, and the incredible waste that the scare provoked, but it didn’t affect me personally. I practically live on tomatoes in the summer, but the heirloom ones from my greenmarket weren’t on the list of ones to avoid.

But jalapeņos, that’s another story. Cucumber salad with jalapeņos? Jalapeņo-basil pesto? Linguine with jalapeņo-butter and Parmesan (my covert cooking-for-one meal)? My daily summer salsa? Adios.

Seriously, there’s something about that green, smoky bite of jalapeņo–spicy but not too hot, a flash of fresh earthy edge. There’s nothing else quite like it. Jalapeņos are my secret go-to warm weather ingredient, a subtle fire that sneaks in to balance the sweet and savory summer flavors.

So what now? Some sighing is in order. Followed by playing around with some new peppers, I suppose. Feeling like a traitor, but secretly optimistic, here’s what I’m looking at:

Ancho (Poblano): Called poblano when green and ancho when greenish black, these are fairly mild, but the heat can vary from pepper to pepper. The ancho is the sweetest of the dried chiles.

Anaheim: Mild Anaheim is one of the most commonly available chiles in the United States; they’re sweetish and a little smoky.

Chile de arbol: Related to the cayenne pepper, this long, skinny red pepper is hot.

Guajillo: These are dried chiles with shiny deep red skin and medium heat.

Hot wax chiles: Similar to jalapeņos in their heat level and texture, maybe the best substitute?

Serrano: Small, about 1-1/12 inches long, serranos are hot and savory. The FDA has issued warnings about these chiles as well, but only because they look so similar to jalapeņos–the concern is that people will mistake one for the other.

Habaņeros: So insanely hot. The hottest of all peppers, but with a wonderfully unique flavor–just use cautiously.

So there will be some pepper experimenting in my kitchen. I’ll miss my jalapeņos for a while, but maybe I’ll find a new chile to love.

I think I’ll get my feet wet with this Avocado, Corn and Poblano Salsa or this Smoky Tomato Salsa, and who knows what’s next? Oh wait, maybe this Chilled Creole Tomato Soup with ancho chiles! I’d love to hear about chile peppers and recipes that you adore, and how you plan on coping through a summer without jalapeņos.

Read more: Basics, Food, , , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2 Healthy and Green Living

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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4:26AM PST on Jan 8, 2013


10:41AM PDT on Sep 26, 2012

good to know and many are easy to grow

5:00PM PDT on Jul 6, 2012

Habañeros ... heavenly!

11:19AM PDT on Oct 15, 2011

Thanks Melissa.

1:07AM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

Great article. Good to know. Thanks for sharing.

5:21AM PDT on Aug 2, 2010


9:55PM PST on Feb 7, 2010

I’ve been looking for the perfect Jalapeno for a while now. I think I finally found The One! After looking around the web for a while. Thanks for sharing this article.
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2:50PM PST on Feb 18, 2009

Yes, you can grow it successfully in a pot. I have one growing here and it has become a "monster".. They really are very the ultimate plants to grow because they are hassle free and look amazing when the pods start turning red. It even survived the heatwave we had here when temps reached 46.4degsC (115.54F) in Melbourne. It didn't even wilt ! Pretty amazing.

2:40PM PDT on Aug 7, 2008

there is no need to be sad about this situation with jalapeños. They are probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow...even if you don't have space for a "real" garden. What I mean is you could probably grom them in a large pot. =)

10:25AM PDT on Aug 6, 2008

it would be less of a problem all the way around if the FDA did it's job. I have a petition to support legislation which would track produce

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