The Problem With Jalapeño, According To Andrew Zimmern

Whether you prefer to add in some freshly chopped chili peppers, sauces like Sriracha, or dried spices like cayenne, there's an abundance of ways to add a bit of heat to any dish you're making. However, if you're a devoted jalapeño fan, you may be curious to hear chef and television personality Andrew Zimmern's take on the classic green pepper that so many of us enjoy.

Jalapeños are used in a wide variety of dishes — from appetizers, like jalapeño poppers, to salsas or sauces. However, as Zimmern dished in an Andrew Zimmern's Spilled Milk Substack video, jalapeño may not be the best pepper to go with if you're looking to add some flavor and heat to your dish. As Zimmern explains, many cooks incorporate the ingredient in search of big, bold flavors, yet they may be doing their dish a disservice, as he feels jalapeños are incredibly inconsistent in terms of the heat they offer.

Zimmern complained in the video that sometimes you'll get a jalapeño that's quite spicy, whereas other times you'll get a much milder product, making it difficult to gauge how the ingredient will impact your finished dish. And, even if you happen to luck out with a batch of spicy jalapeños to add in that heat, he finds that the commonly used pepper has a relatively one-dimensional flavor, offering a burst of heat and not much else.

What to use instead of jalapeños

In dishes where jalapeños are the star (like those cream cheese-filled appetizers), it's not really possible to make a good swap. However, in the vast majority of dishes where the jalapeño simply provides a bit of heat, there are alternatives you may want to consider, according to Andrew Zimmern.

In an Andrew Zimmern's Spilled Milk video, Zimmern mentioned that he prefers serrano peppers if you're opting for a fresh chili pepper. According to Chili Pepper Madness, serrano chilis are relatively similar to jalapeños. They do pack a bit more punch when it comes to the heat they deliver — as Mexican Please highlights, they're about three times hotter than jalapeños. However, they have a lot of the same flavor notes in terms of their bright, almost herbaceous qualities. And they're fantastic to use fresh, or if you want to develop a bit more complexity in the flavor of your dish, roasted.

If you can't find serrano peppers in your grocery store, or you don't make spicy dishes too often and would rather just have some dried spices on hand to add that kick in particular dishes, Zimmern is also a fan of Sichuan peppercorn — he sources his from The Mala Market. As Bon Appetit explains, this flavor-packed spice delivers a unique mouth-tingling sensation and features notes of citrus. While most commonly used in Sichuan dishes, you could certainly experiment with this spice in other cuisines, as well.