Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: What Are The Differences?

Published: October 27, 2022
© iStock.com/hongquang09
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Serrano and jalapeno peppers are often associated with each other since they look very much alike and can be used almost interchangeably. Plus, the plants are very closely related and grow in very similar ways. Despite all their similarities, there are a few big differences between these two peppers that you’ll want to know when buying, growing, or cooking with them.

Serrano vs. Jalapeno Peppers At A Glance

SerranoJalapeno
Species Capsicum annuum ‘Serano’Capsicum annuum ‘Jalapeno’
Size 1-4″ long, 0.5″ wide2-5″ long, 1″ wide
Shape Thin and stringy with pointed tipsOval-shaped with rounded ends
Heat10,000-25,000 SCU2,500-8,000 SCU
Flavor Slightly sweet and smoky, with delayed heatSmoky and a bit sweeter, more mild heat

The Key Differences Between Serrano and Jalapeno Peppers

Serrano pepper
Serrano peppers are extremely hot and rate 10,000 – 25,000 on the Scoville scale

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

The main difference between serrano and jalapeno peppers is how hot they are. Serrano peppers are much, much hotter than jalapenos and rates much higher on the Scoville scale. The other differences between them include their size and shape. Jalapenos are larger than serranos are have an oval shape with rounded ended compared to the thin serrano peppers which have pointy ends.

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Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: Growing

Both serrano and jalapeno peppers come from the Capsicum plant genus, native to Central and South America, the same genus as poblano and cayenne peppers. The actual plants are very closely related, so they both grow in similar conditions and appear alike.

Both plants grow to about five feet tall and prefer moist, well-draining soil, and are generally really easy plants to grow. However, serrano pepper plants tend to produce a lot more peppers since they’re smaller. Serrano and jalapeno peppers are two of the most common pepper plants to grow, along with bell peppers, although jalapeno is a bit more popular since its flavor is milder.

Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: Heat

One of the biggest differences between serrano and jalapeno peppers is their heat, which is something you’ll quickly notice if you take a bite of the wrong one. Relative to all chili peppers, serrano and jalapeno peppers have a similar heat level- both placed at “mild hot” on the Scoville index.

Yet, the two differ quite a lot compared to each other: serrano is scored at 10,000 to 25,000 Scoville units (SCU) and jalapeno at 2,5000 to 8,000 SCU. There’s a range of heat because the spiciness of a pepper depends on its growing conditions and ripeness when picked.

You can see that serrano peppers can be three to four times as spicy as jalapeno peppers, which makes a big difference when swapping them for recipes. The spiciness of jalapeno peppers is more similar to Fresno chili peppers.

Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: Shape and Size

Jalapenos Chili Peppers or Mexican chili peppers
Jalapenos are longer and wider than serrano peppers.

©iStock.com/hongquang09

The look of these peppers is another good indicator of whether you’re looking at a serrano or jalapeno- without having to taste to find out!

Serrano peppers are quite a bit smaller than jalapeno peppers, about half as wide and an inch or two shorter. These peppers are very thin and slender peppers, whereas Jalapeno peppers are fuller and larger. Serrano peppers also have pointed tips while Jalapenos are rounded out at the tip and stem.

Serrano peppers have thinner flesh and skin and, since they’re much smaller, are usually packed with seeds. Jalapeno peppers, on the other hand, have thicker flesh and skin and don’t typically have as many seeds. Sometimes Jalapenos have tons of seeds inside, but this isn’t the norm.

Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: Color

Serrano and Jalapeno peppers go through the same color changes throughout the ripening process, so the color isn’t a very reliable indicator to distinguish the two. Most often, you’ll see these peppers green, before they fully ripen, but they both turn orange and then red as they reach full maturity.

One clear giveaway between serrano and jalapeno peppers that you can see just by looking is the texture of the skin. Serrano peppers have smooth skin all through maturity, however, jalapeno peppers develop “corking.” As they mature, jalapeno peppers get white lines that run down the skin, looking like stretch marks!

Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: Flavor

Because these two plants are so closely related, their flavor profiles are very similar. Both serrano and jalapeno peppers have slightly sweet and slightly smoky flavors, although the sweetness increases when the pepper is left to ripen.

Although, clearly the serrano pepper is hotter than jalapeno, which makes its flavor sharper and changes its overall flavor profile. Also, the spiciness of serrano peppers kicks a bit late, so you won’t taste it right away- until you’re already onto the next bite.

Jalapeno peppers are still spicy, but they don’t bite as much and are generally more palatable. Most recipes call for jalapeno peppers just because they’re more easily accepted.

Serrano Pepper vs. Jalapeno: Uses

Since their flavors aren’t too different from each other, serrano and jalapeno peppers can be used in many of the same recipes. Any recipes for salsas, guacamole, or marinades that call for either of these peppers can easily be replaced by the other- just keep in mind that serrano peppers are spicier and can’t be substituted 1:1.

A lot of people like to grow or have serrano peppers to add to recipes to make them even hotter if the original recipe isn’t spicy enough. And the same goes for the inverse- if a recipe calls for serrano peppers, you can swap those for jalapenos to make it milder if that better suits your taste buds.

Because serrano peppers are smaller, they’re often used chopped or blended up for sauces or dips. Jalapeno peppers are much bigger so they can be used as slices or whole, or even stuffed, and have a wider range of uses.

Serrano and Jalapeno: Think of Them as Brothers

In the comparison between serrano and jalapeno peppers, the best way to put it is that they’re like brothers- similar in many ways but each very unique. Serrano peppers are not exactly like jalapeno peppers, but they’re not as distant as habenero peppers, for example.

These two peppers are, understandably, so commonly confused for the other because they’re really not that different. I hope that this article has helped you understand the difference between serrano and jalapeno peppers, so you can understand how to identify these peppers and properly substitute them for recipes!

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The Featured Image

Two green jalapeno chili peppers, one whole, one sliced in half revealing an almost white center (placenta).
The word jalapeño itself means “from Xalapa,” a city in Mexico.
© iStock.com/hongquang09

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About the Author

Peyton has always loved playing outside, as a kid and still well into her 20's. The connections between our lives, other animals, and all the plants around us has always fascinated her and fueled a drive to learn so much about the natural world. Through curiosity and experience, her knowledge has grown, specifically on medicinal plants and regenerative agriculture. Her favorite animal is the Holland Lop rabbit, after learning they're the greatest pet you could ever have.

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Sources
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