Kitchen Basics: How To Seed a Jalapeno and Some Safety Tips

Monday, January 10, 2011

I get this question all the time. What does "seeding a jalapeno" actually mean? Why would you go through the trouble of removing the seeds of such a small pepper? Does it really matter? Well, here are you answers...

Seeding a jalapeno or any pepper for that matter means simply to remove the seeds and the ribs of the pepper, leaving only the cap or body. The heat of the jalapeno or any spicy pepper lives in the ribs and seeds. The seeds carry the essential oil which is the spicy part that creates the burning sensation in your mouth and on your skin; and the oil permeates through into the ribs as well. It is this oil that is doing the damage, not the pepper itself. In fact, if you ate just the dark green outside you'd find it was actually quite mild. But taste the ribs or the seeds and then the party starts.

The "ribs" section is the lighter whitish part that runs through the middle of the pepper that the seeds are attached to: 

By removing the seeds and ribs, you can control the level of heat in the pepper. So, for example if your recipe calls for a jalapeno but you're making the dish for kids also or someone who wants a milder version, simply remove all the ribs and seeds and you'll be left with only the smallest hint of heat if that. Or, if you want it a little spicy, you may elect to remove the ribs and seed from one half of the pepper, and leave the other half intact for the recipe. Or, you could remove all the ribs and seeds, set aside, chop that separately from the rest of the jalapeno, then add the ribs and seeds to suit your taste. It's a great technique to know in the kitchen to help you work with spicy peppers.

To remove the seeds and ribs, simply slide a sharp pairing knife down the sides of the ribs like so:

And then pop the ribs and seeds out, leaving the cap of the pepper whole and intact, like this:

At this point, if you were preparing the pepper for jalapeno poppers or another stuffing for example, you'd stuff the cavity of the pepper with cheese or whatever mixture you're using, then add the other half of the pepper on top, close it back up, and proceed with your recipe.

If you're planning to chop the pepper or finely mince it, then proceed as follows. To mince, slice the pepper cap into thin strips like this:

Then cut against the strips, creating small tiny squares. This is a fine chop or "mince":

Now you have jalapeno pepper finely minced that you could add to your dishes, salsas, guacamole, or batters for things like scones or bread.

You can do the same thing including the seeds and ribs as well if you wanted to include the heat factor. Same idea as above with the strips and chop, only you'd skip the first step of removing the ribs and seeds.
[left: finely chopped jalapeno seeded; right: unseeded]

When working with spicy peppers like jalapenos, it's important to also be aware of safe handling instructions. First, peppers are notorious for carrying e.coli so wash them well before using. Second, it's best to handle them using rubber gloves. You can get a box like the doctor uses at the grocery store which work nicely. This way once you're done handling the pepper, you can throw away the gloves and know you didn't come into contact with the oil.

But what if you do come into contact with the oil? For some people, they can be extremely sensitive to the oil and have a sort of allergic reaction. If they were, to say, rub the exposed pepper onto their skin, their skin would immediately redden and blister up, and they'd have a painful burning sensation that would probably send them into fits I affectionately call The Fire Dance. Even worse is when this oil comes into contact with your nostrils or eyeballs, where nerve endings are more exposed and the skin is all the more delicate. Then The Fire Dance turns into The Exorcism, and you are sorely tempted to call your local priest. You must realize that the oil is resilient, so even though you were to wash your hands after handling, especially us ladies with the longer fingernails -- the oil can travel up under your fingernails and stay there. So an hour or two later even after washing you were to rub your eyes or blow your nose or change your kids diaper -- and it's game on. So to combat that, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with water AND soap because the soap will remove the oil; the oil will just run off the water like nothing, and make sure you scrub under those nails as well. From my experience, it takes around 4 hours for the oil to completely disappear from your skin if you made full contact, so if you're making a dish with jalapenos you might want to have Daddy change those diapers for the rest of the night.

Should you come into contact with the oil and are on fire, you can do a few things that are surefire (no pun intended) to work:

1. Wash affected area with soap and cold water -- dish soap is actually preferred here as it can really attack that oil and destroy it faster than an antibacterial hand soap or worse, fancy perfume soap. And warm or hot water will actually exacerbate the heat and make it worse, so use cold.

2. If you get contact in your eyes, start running water into your eyeballs. You can actually do this buy putting the shower on and sticking your face into it, holding your eye lids open for the water to come in, or dampen a towel well with water and hold it to your face. Note that the initial contact with water will make it burn worse -- this is normal and will go away after 30 seconds. The eyeballs are amazing and will destroy the oil very quickly, so stay calm and focused and just apply that water to help wash the oil out.

3. If you get contact with the outer eye, wash carefully with soap and water around the eye area. Let the soap stay on the eye area about 2 minutes to kill the oil, then carefully wipe away. No cream -- just soap.

4. If you get contact on your skin, apply milk, sour cream, or yogurt to your skin. This includes your face, nose, hands, and any private areas you forgot when you absentmindedly scratched. Leave the milk product on the affected area a few minutes to soak in. Milk is a natural neutralizer for the capsicum oil

5. If you consume too much heat and having a reaction, down a glass of milk -- it will neutralize the pepper instantly.

Now that you know how to work with the jalapeno, have fun cooking with it! And remember to wash your hands immediately very well with soap and water, and under those nails!

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