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Hot Peppers and How to Handle Them

posted in Spices and Seasonings by Kathy Maister

This post is mostly about working with jalapeño peppers. Be sure to check out all of my other posts on chili peppers!

How Hot Is It?:’s Chili Chart with video

Chili Peppers (Video)

How To: Chilies

Jalapenos Stuffed with Sausage

10 Ways to Use Chili Peppers


Hot peppers can add a delightful zing to lots of different dishes. There are many varieties available at your grocery store. Not only do they come in different sizes, colors and shape, but they all pack a different punch! Heat index is the official term for judging how hot a chili pepper is.

Today, I’m going to be working with just jalapeño peppers. These are mid-range in the heat index.

The safety precautions I’m going to talk about apply to the handling of all hot peppers.

Jalapeño peppers are (obviously) spelled with a “j”, but pronounced as an “h.” They can be purchased fresh in the produce department, or in cans and jars in the dry goods aisle.

Bottled or canned jalapenos are pickled, which means they are preserved in a vinegar mixture. The added vinegar in the peppers will alter the taste slightly. Nevertheless they are still a great substitute if the fresh ones are not available.

If a recipe calls for a pepper to be seeded, this just means you have to remove the seeds and veins. While it is actually the seeds and the veins that cause all the heat, the oils in the peppers can irritate your skin. Some people (including me!) always wear rubber gloves when seeding and chopping hot peppers.

To remove the seeds and veins, cut the pepper in half with a paring knife. Then just cut away the veins and the seeds.

A very clever way to remove the seeds is with a melon baller. (A melon baller has several other uses in addition to make melon balls. It is also great at removing an apple core! Who knew?

After cutting the chili in half, hold the stem end down, and roll the melon baller from the tip back to the stem end. The veins and seeds all come out in one swift motion.

You can then cut the peppers into thin strips or a fine “dice” (small 1/8 inch bits.)

Or use them to make some Jalapenos Stuffed with Sausage.

When you are finished, always wash your hands well with soap and water. After touching a jalapeno, be careful not to touch or rub your eyes, (or stick your fingers in your mouth or up your nose.) The oils will really burn!

By the way, if you eat a really hot chili and it’s burning the inside of your mouth, don’t gulp down water!!!! The best way to ease the symptoms is to drink milk or eat yogurt. Dairy products contain a substance which disrupts the burning. All water does is to spread the oils around your mouth — which sure isn’t going to help.

Incidentally, red jalapeño peppers are the same as the green ones, except they are left on the vine longer to ripen. They are sweeter but, surprisingly, not hotter than the green ones.



Oops! Almost forgot to mention bell peppers.

These peppers have a wonderful taste and texture but are not hot. They are great eaten raw in salads or on a platter with other cut veggies and some dip.

Cook up some rice, brown some ground beef and in just a few more short steps you can have Stuffed Peppers for dinner tonight!


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Shaula Evans said:

Kathy, this post reminds me of when we lived in Dallas — I was fascinated by the displayes of fresh and dried peppers in the grocery stores and mercados there.

Jalapeños are a bit (okay, a lot) too much for my palate, thanks to my bland-food-eating, pigmentless Northern European forebears, no doubt. In Texas I did, however, discover chipotle, which I still enjoy cooking with for a rare treat.

I never did really play with fresh peppers any hotter than a poblano (which comes out at 1,000 ~ 2,000 Scoville units on your heat scale, or just slighter hotter than a bell pepper), partly because I didn’t know the first thing about how to handle them.

When it heats up here, and we’re craving spicer food, I think now I’ll finally be brave enough to try adding just one or two fresh jalapeños to a dish — but I’ll also be sure to keep some yogurt close at hand!

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Shaula, try the red ones first, they’re sweeter!

Jon said:

I am fairly convinced, particularly following several months in South East Asia, that one gains an ‘immunity’ to chillies over time and much ingestion – by the end of my time there I was seen crumbling Thai chillies (and they’re way up the scale) over my food because it was too bland :-). So Shaula, do try and do persevere it’s well worth it.

On something else which Kathy refers to (and I know this is a family site…) whatever you do, if you have been handling chillies, be very, very careful if you then have to go to the toilet!

Kathy Maister said:


Shaula Evans said:

Kathy, I will indeed start with the red peppers — sounds like a much better match for me.

And Jon, I second Kathy: ouch!

adam said:

It’s the seeds and veins that cause the heat! Yep. So my suggestion is to leave them in. Studies show that eating spicier foods can reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. Load up, I say.

Kathy Maister said:

I’m wondering if being able/not able to tolerate really hot foods is determined by what sex you are. Do most men, in fact, like *hot and spicy*? I find that once my mouth starts burning, I can’t taste anything else!

andy said:

When you are finished, always wash your hands well with soap and water. After touching a jalapeno, be careful not to touch or rub your eyes, (or stick your fingers in your mouth or up your nose.) The oils will really burn!

Jennifer said:

I don’t know Kathy- I’m a gal and I love hot chilies. My poor hubby had a hard time when I first started cooking with them 10 years ago. But you know what’s funny? He’s built up a better tolerance over the years and eats the same spicy meals I eat now….

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Andy, two words of advice…wear gloves! I keep a box of the disposable kind on hand for that very reason.

Jen, I think it has more to do with you just being a fabulous cook and knowing how to bring out the best in the flavor combinations that you use!

Bob said:

I cleaned about 30 jalapeno peppers yesterday. I did not wear gloves. I did wash my hands after cleaning the peppers with soap.

About 6 hours later my hands really burn. Still 24 hrs later they still burn some time more than others.

Has any one had this problem? If so how did you correct it or does it go away after a few days

Dereon said:

I just got finished cleaning the Jalepeno peppers for a fanstastic dinner on Sunday. It’s been at least 24 hours and my hands still have the oil buried deep in my fingertips.

Jessica said:

Hello Dereon,

Thanks for that very convincing reminder that wearing gloves while handling Jalapenos is the way to go. Yikes!


Justin said:

Great article, I’m always trying to get people to eat more hot food. I live in Austin, TX so there is no shortange of peppers here. I’m actually eating jalapeno & habanero poppers right now, I cleaned them with a spoon I’ll have to try a melon baller next time.

Wearing gloves is excellent advice! Keeps you from getting “hunan hand” or, worse, getting the juice in worse places o_0

a good site for info on growing & cooking hot peppers is

Jessica Howard said:

Hello Justin,

Thanks for letting us know about the website!


Tanner said:

i love jalapenos peppers!

Ed said:

I had typed this comment earlier but didn’t realize it was a two-part process and missed the second part so I’ll post again. What will get rid of the chili oil on your hands is cooking oil – olive, canola, whatever you have. Oil mixes with oil which is why this works. Chile oil will not mix with water. So, after working with chiles, just put some oil on your hands, rub them together, rinse and then wash your hands with soap and water. This will get rid of the chile oil. Guaranteed. But, it’s still best to use rubber gloves.

startcooking said:

Hi Ed,

Thanks for the great tip!

I always use disposable rubbers gloves when working with hot peppers.

Given dairy products like milk, ice cream and yogurt will put out the flame in your mouth, I’m wondering if you could soak your hands in milk to relieve the burning sensation???


karen said:

One time i cleaned peppers without gloves and rubbed my face and it started to burn , a friend came in amd told me to use Barbasol shaving cream to take the sting out….. it worked!!!!!!!!!!!

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