What Is Jalapeno Relish?

C. Mitchell

Jalapeno relish is a spicy sauce that is most often used as a condiment or spread. Most of the time, jalapenos are but one of the ingredients. On its own, the jalapeno pepper is usually quite spicy and can be overwhelming if not balanced with something more moderate. Cucumber, corn, and cabbage are common additions. Much is left up to the discretion of the manufacturer or cook, and there can be great variety in the style and taste of relishes sporting the jalapeno designation.

A jalapeno pepper.
A jalapeno pepper.

Commercial jalapeno relishes are almost always pickled. This means that they contain a relatively high vinegar content and are often a bit sour at first taste. The spiciness of the peppers adds a kick and is usually paired with contents that are either savory or sweet to result in a balanced flavor combination. Manufactured jalapeno relish is usually sold in jars, often alongside salsa, dips, and other spicy condiments.

Jalapeno relish is quite spicy and can be overwhelming if not balanced with something more moderate like cabbage.
Jalapeno relish is quite spicy and can be overwhelming if not balanced with something more moderate like cabbage.

Jalapeno peppers are commonly associated with Mexican and Latin American cuisine, in large part because these regions are their primary growing area. Relishes are very popular in these cultures, but the appeal is usually more wide-reaching. Cooks all over the world use jalapeno relish on a number of meat dishes, as a condiment to foods like hamburgers and sausages, or as a dip for chips or crackers.

Homemade jalapeno relish is not usually difficult to make. Almost any sauce or relish can become a “jalapeno relish” simply by adding the peppers, usually minced or shredded. Some homemade recipes are pickled, but the pickling process is often more time-consuming. Fresh relish — that is, a relish consisting of whole, usually raw ingredients — is generally much quicker. Limited cooking or boiling can be involved, but once the flavors have blended, the sauce is usually ready to serve.

Among other things, making relish at home allows cooks to control the intensity and heat of the final product. Most of the spice of jalapeno peppers is located in the seeds. Including a lot of seeds adds a lot of heat, while filtering them out results in something much milder.

There is no universal recipe, which means that the realm of possible types of relish is vast. Most jalapeno relish dishes are designed to be savory and are often made primarily of other vegetables or vegetable combinations. A relish does not have to contain many peppers to be considered a jalapeno variety. In most cases, just the hint of spice is all that is required.

Jalapeno relishes are usually savory, but can be sweeter if they are fruit, rather than vegetable, based. Cranberry, apple, and orange are common primary ingredients. The zing of the pepper livens these ordinarily sugary sauces, and makes them suitable to complement a range of dishes.

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