Jalapeños are one of the most versatile peppers you can find anywhere. They work as condiments, appetizers and an important ingredient in many more complex dishes. But in a world in search of spicier and spicier food, they often get left behind. So one man is on a quest to elevate the jalapeño to new fiery heights.
Aziz Baameur is the farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, part of the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. According to Forbes, for the past few years, Baameur has worked to grow spicier jalapeños in an effort to satiate Americans' continued obsession with everything extra hot. (A 2013 study shows that 54 percent of people now have a preference for spicy foods, up from 46 percent in 2009. Part of the result: Jalapeños are now on 25 percent of restaurant menus.)
Of course, hotter peppers already exist—habanero peppers, ghost peppers, Julius Peppers (he looks good in that football uniform)—but what sets the classic jalapeño apart is that it packs both spice and flavor. Many of the world’s hottest peppers don’t really taste like anything except fire in your mouth. “You cannot replace jalapeños,” Baameur told Forbes. “They are very special in the way they are produced and used.” Instead, Baameur’s goal is to increase levels of capsaicin, the compound that gives jalapeños their kick, while still maintaining the flavor we all know and love.
Results have been hit or miss. Baameur did see some success by significantly increasing nitrogen levels, though he found the amount of nitrogen needed outweighed the benefits of the added heat. He’s hoping to continue tweaking nitrogen levels in future experiments.
But here’s the unfortunate kicker: Right now, Baameur’s funding has dried up. What is the point of Kickstarter, if not this? If we can raise money for online pictures of shrimp, surely we can help make a better jalapeño. Count me in for 10 bucks.