As a spicy food enthusiast and hot sauce lover, I've eaten my fair share of peppers. Whether spicy, sweet, pickled, or roasted, I love them all. However, there are two kinds of peppers that don't get the individual attention they deserve: jalapeño and serrano peppers.

Jalapeños and serranos come from different regions, have different levels of heat, and work best in different recipes, but people confuse them often due to their similar appearance and flavor. Here's a bit of a history and a science lesson, so that we may all better understand the difference between serrano vs jalapeño peppers.

Origins of Serranos vs Jalapeños

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Spoon University

Serranos and jalapeños grow in different parts of Mexico. The word "serrano" comes from the Spanish "sierra," or mountain range, as the pepper grows at high altitudes in the mountainous Mexican states of Hidalgo and Puebla. 

Conversely, jalapeños originated in Jalapa, the capital city of the Mexican state of Veracruz. Xalapa is a word of Nahuatl origin, a member of the Aztec language family. The Aztec people sold jalapeños in their markets, preferring to roast them before eating. 

Size of Serranos vs Jalapeños

Frequently confused due to their similar shape, there are a few key differences between serrano vs jalapeño peppers. Jalapeño peppers are generally 2 to 3 inches long and are usually eaten when they're green. However, as they ripen they turn various shades of red, orange, or yellow. Serrano peppers are usually 1 to 2 inches long and are unripe when green (but they can still be eaten before they're fully ripe). Serrano peppers ripen to vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and brown.

Taste of Serranos vs Jalapeños

Between the two, serrano peppers definitely pack the bigger punch. A measure of heat called the Scoville Unit is used to assess the heat of a pepper. This is based on the concentration of a chemical compound called capsaicin. This compound is classified as an irritant for most mammals, save for those of us who don't believe food has any flavor if we can still feel our tongue.

Serrano peppers clock in at 10,000 to 20,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), whereas jalapeño peppers have a rating of 2,500 to 10,000 SHU. The spiciness of each pepper depends on a variety of factors, such as ripening and direct sunlight, but generally seranno peppers are about five times as spicy as jalapeños.

When to Use Each Pepper

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Caitlin Shoemaker

When considering serrano vs jalapeño peppers, there are a few questions to consider:

First, what's your heat tolerance?

Using the Scoville scale as well as my own much less scientific, anecdotal evidence, serranos are definitely not for the faint of heart, whereas jalapeños fare well with even the most reluctant spice eaters.

Second, what are you cooking?

If you're eating something that involves raw peppers or a large number of peppers, jalapeños are probably your best bet. They're fantastic chopped up in pico de gallo, pickled for a topping on a sandwich, or stuffed with cream cheese and any number of other toppings and roasted.

For serranos, try a spicier salsa with tomatillos, or break out of the mold and try a pasta dish with serrano peppers and tomatoes.

Third, what do you like?

The flavor between the two is relatively similar, and both are fantastic options to spice up any dish. It all comes down to personal preference and tolerance for spice.

If you think that serranos and jalapeños taste a little different or your grocery store carries one but not the other, fret not. The possibility still exists for delicious salsas and an abundance of opportunities to burn off your taste buds.