Jalapeno peppers are in the same botanical family as tomatoes, eggplants, and potatoes. But what about their status as an actual “fruit”? The short answer is that they’re not technically fruits; however, they do have many of the characteristics you’d find in a typical plant-based food.
The reason for this confusion comes down to how we classify plants like these. In order to be classified as a true “plant,” according to the Merriam Webster dictionary definition (and most other dictionaries), it must contain mostly cellulose — something more than just water, but less than any significant amount of sugar. This means that while there may be some starch present, it’s only enough to make them sweet-tasting instead of sugary.
So why does this matter when talking about jalapeños?
Because unlike almost all other vegetables, including onions and garlic, pepper plants actually produce two types of edible parts: green stems and red/orange fleshy pods. Green stems can also bear flowers, which makes them somewhat similar to herbs such as basil or rosemary. While both are part of the spice garden staple known as chili peppers, it’s important to note that the flower buds from chili peppers aren’t typically eaten by people who grow them at home because they have much higher levels of capsaicinoid compounds compared with the rest of the flesh of the pepper plant. Capsaicinoids cause pain and irritation, so eating too much could result in burning your mouth or throat. It should go without saying that consuming large amounts of capsaicinoids would probably be unpleasant anyway. However, due to its high pungency level, the bud is usually removed before harvesting the seeds.
With that said, let’s take a look at whether jalapeño peppers qualify as fruits under the common definitions. Since they were originally domesticated thousands of years ago in Mexico, Central America and South America, we’ll use those regions’ names for our discussion here. We’ll start out with the old standbys first…
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a fruit is defined as follows:
“A tree or shrub bearing edible aboveground portions commonly used for human consumption.”
In addition to being a great source of fiber, fruits provide energy through carbohydrates found within them. They also help regulate body weight thanks to vitamins and minerals contained therein. Many fruits also serve as natural insecticides, keeping beneficial bugs away from crops that wouldn’t otherwise survive long into adulthood. And when consumed raw, fruits offer additional nutritional value since eating uncooked fruit prevents fermentation, allowing the nutrients inside to reach the bloodstream quickly.
Finally, fruits often taste good alone or mixed together in different ways, providing endless opportunities for creative culinary endeavors.
Now let’s move on to the question of whether jalapeños fall into the category of fruit-based upon the aforementioned criteria. Here are the main points we’ve considered regarding this issue:
Edibility – A lot has been made of this one, since this was one of the original reasons for cultivating peppers in the first place. But even though the skin of a jalapeño contains oils that burn the tongue, this doesn’t mean that the entire thing is bad to eat. For example, paprika uses oil extracted from hot peppers to flavor foods. On top of that, most varieties of peppers don’t have very strong odors, making them easy to handle and peel off before eating. In fact, most cooks prefer cooking peppers whole rather than removing the skins after roasting or sautéing. Another point worth noting is that the flesh of jalapeños isn’t particularly spicy, meaning that they won’t irritate your esophagus unless you consume way too many of them at once. If you want to know exactly how spicy a particular variety of pepper is, try sticking a small piece between your thumb and index finger and seeing how far up it goes.
Energy Value – Fruits are primarily composed of sugars stored in their cells. When broken down during digestion, these sugars release glucose that the blood carries toward the brain. As mentioned earlier, peppers generally don’t pack a punch in terms of heat, so they shouldn’t affect the digestive process itself. Therefore, all signs point to yes — these peppers do supply plenty of energy!
Nutrition – Vegetables are plants that lack roots and stems, whereas fruits tend to exhibit photosynthesis and develop from seed to blossom. Even though jalapeños are technically fruits, they still benefit greatly from having access to sunlight, especially when grown indoors. Their leaves are filled with chlorophyll, giving them a bright appearance and helping them absorb carbon dioxide molecules. These leaves are also loaded with antioxidants called carotenoids. Carotenoids protect against damage caused by free radicals, helping us stay healthy throughout our lives. Like the other components discussed here, jalapeños contain little to no cholesterol, sodium or saturated fats. Although they do contain vitamin C, this vitamin plays an essential role in protecting tissues against infection, and therefore we recommend getting enough of it every day. Other notable vitamins include B6, folate and thiamine. Folate helps fight cancerous tumors and other diseases associated with aging, along with slowing cognitive decline. Thiamine provides energy needed for cellular processes, ensuring proper functioning of nerves and muscles. Lastly, vitamin B6 keeps enzymes active, supporting the immune system. Overall, although jalapeños certainly don’t rank among the best sources of nutrition, they’re definitely better than nothing.
Are Jalapenos a fruit?
Based on everything we’ve covered here, we conclude that while jalapeños themselves might not fit perfectly into the fruit category, they fulfill several of the requirements necessary to call themselves so. By combining these characteristics, we believe that yes jalapeños should be considered a form of fruit, albeit a hybrid one. After all, they combine traits from multiple species — namely from the Solanaceae family, as well as some aspects from the Convolvulaceae and Sterculiaceae families. Perhaps someday soon someone will come up with another name for these unique hybrids. Until then, we hope you enjoy growing your own delicious fruits!
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the word chili derives from Nahuatl, Aztec language spoken near today’s Texas. The term means either “fire”, referring to the color of the ripe pepper pods or smoke, or “smoke”, referring to the smell of fresh peppers roasting over open fires. Both meanings came about through Spanish settlers using English words referring to traditional Mexican cuisine.
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