The Quick Way To Tell If A Jalapeño Pepper Has Gone Bad

Jalapeño peppers are a firm favorite for many, for good reason. From candied jalapeño mayo to broiled jalapeño poppers, these little peppers can transform a meal, or even become the meal themselves. Just one question before popping them into anything and everything: How do we know if they're still good? 

Let's face it: "Sell by," "use by," and "best by" labels can cause anyone's head to spin, especially because most of the time, the labels aren't telling us when foods will go bad, so much as they're advising on the item's quality level. Making matters even more confusing, jalapeño peppers can also be a little on the ambiguous side when it comes to looking off. 

As noted by Eat Delights, while possibly not the best option if you're looking for a fresh ingredient, jalapeños can still be safe to eat even as they start showing the telltale signs of aging, like wrinkles (jalapeños, they're just like us!). Does It Go Bad? concurs with that, pointing out that the biggest issue at the wrinkly stage would be a less spicy pepper — but that they would be more than safe in a cooked meal. 

In light of all the uncertainty, then, it only makes sense that most people aren't sure when a pepper is A-okay or a jalapeñ-go, so our question remains: How can we tell for sure if a jalapeño is bad, beyond a shadow of a doubt? 

Take a whiff

Wrinkles may make classifying a jalapeño tricky, but if you really want to know if the pepper is off, look no further than your sense of smell. 

Speaking to Food & Wine in November, chef/partner at Coyo Taco, Scott Linquist explained, "If there is a hint of musty or moldy aroma, it's too late." Linquist added that the best port of call, in that scenario, would be discarding the pepper entirely — or, if you have one, pop it on the compost heap. Having said that, according to Crate & Basket, there is one caveat when it comes to funky jalapeños. That is, a pickled pepper will probably emit more of a smell than a fresh one. Even then, though, as soon as it starts smelling a little more pungent than previously, it's time to cut your losses and throw it out. 

On the subject of pickled jalapeños, Scott Linquist told Food & Wine that one way to prolong the life span of fresh peppers would be to preserve them, well before they reach the point of no return. And, as a bonus, if you're making them yourself — say, with Dennis Lee's delicious recipe — you'll have a front-row seat to what they're supposed to smell like, early on. Having too many jalapeño peppers never needs to be a problem again!