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Top Pick Of The Week

November 1, 2005

Updated October 2011

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Pepper Jellies

All pepper jellies look pretty. Aloha From Oregon
pepper jellies are perfectly balanced and taste
great too! Photo by Melissa Hom | THE NIBBLE.

Aloha from Oregon:
Perfect Pepper Jellies


CAPSULE REPORT: We’re not on vacation: Aloha From Oregon is a company in Eugene that makes gourmet pepper jelly, marmalade and chutney. Oregon is neither in the neck of the woods known for hot and spicy foods, nor in an area with a vocabulary that includes “aloha.” But proprietor Judi Dodson lived in Hawaii for 18 years before moving to Oregon and began her business with a line of products with flavors she enjoyed in the tropics.

Pepper jelly is as hot as the tropics: it’s a condiment made with chile peppers. It rose to prominence in the southern U.S., where it is most famously served with cream cheese on crackers, as an hors d’oeuvre or snack. Sweet and sour, hot and spicy, creamy and crunchy: it seems to cover all the snack food bases. No doubt that is one of the reasons there seem to be as many gourmet food companies making pepper jelly as there are making strawberry preserves.

 

ARTICLE INDEX

MORE TO DISCOVER

 

What Is Pepper Jelly

The jellies are usually clear and jewel-like with flecks of the pepper. Depending on the chile pepper used—generally jalapeño, serrano or habañero—the jelly can be red or green in hue (click here for an explanation of the different kinds of peppers). Some jellies are amber and golden hues, reflecting the addition of fruits (and/or a bit of food coloring). Different fruits and spices can be added for complexity—for example, pineapple or mango on the sweet side, and tomato or bell pepper on the savory side. Home cooks who enjoy making food gifts can easily whip up a batch: pepper jelly is made exactly like fruit jelly, with a base of sugar and pectin, plus chiles, vinegar, and any fruit and spices.  (There’s a click-to recipe along with serving suggestions later in this article.)

 

What Makes The Best Pepper Jelly

We encounter oceans of pepper jellies at gourmet trade food shows. What separates the average from the noteworthy is the balance of pepper heat and the proportion of sugar.

  • These are savory-sweet jellies: Both qualities need to be finessed. In any jelly, sugar is the largest ingredient by volume—but it needs to be in the background as an enhancer, not up- front as the primary flavor. The same is true with the piquant vinegar accent. The primary flavor should be the pepper, just as the first flavor in a strawberry jelly should be ripe fruit.
  • The flaw with many pepper jellies we have tasted—as with many fruit jellies—is that there is just too much sugar: the difference, say, between six cups of sugar in the recipe instead of five cups. The net effect is the same as with overly-sweet milk chocolate, icing, or cocoa. But “too sweet” in a savory jelly for hors d’oeuvres is a bigger problem than “too sweet” in a chocolate bar or a piece of cake.
  • There should be enough chile pepper flavor and heat to warrant using the condiment in the first place, but not enough capsaicins (the compounds in chiles that cause the burn) to take out your taste buds. We stick with the jellies made with jalapeños and serranos, which are medium-heat chiles. Habañero is one step up on the Scoville Scale, medium-hot; and Scotch bonnet is at the top of the scale, a chile categorized as extreme. Manufacturers who use the hotter chiles will add even more sugar, which covers up the heat for a moment. But as with very hot salsa, the capsaicins will sink into your palate and destroy your ability to taste anything for the next 45 minutes.

Now that you have as much background as one needs on pepper jelly, it’s time to say “aloha” to the 14 flavors that do achieve just the right balance of sugar, vinegar and heat. The Aloha From Oregon line is at a medium level of heat that can be enjoyed by everyone, at any time of the day.

The flavors include Apricot, Apricot Jalapeño, Cranberry, Garlic, Habañero, Jalapeño, Mango, Marionberry, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Raspberry Jalapeño (also called Christmas because it’s half red raspberry jelly, half green jalapeño jelly), Smokey Red Jalapeño, and Strawberry.

Even those fruit flavors without “jalapeño” in the title have jalapeño in the recipe; the combination name denotes a lovely dual-flavor jar of half jalapeño-only jelly and half jalapeño-flavored raspberry or apricot jelly.

Christmas Jelly
For the holidays, Raspberry Jalapeño gets a new label, Christmas Pepper Jelly.  You can see why. The two-tone jar is also available in Apricot Jalapeño.

We loved all the flavors: the Cranberry is especially delightful and timely; Raspberry Jalapeño combines two dynamite tastes and two deep jewel colors. Trendy Pomegranate is one of the more delicate flavors, in both taste and hue.

Rather than stand in the crossroads of decision-making, we think you should get a jar of every flavor and invite friends over for brunch or cocktails and a pepper jelly tasting. You’ll want to determine your favorites: they are all very enjoyable, and you’re likely to find uses for several flavors in your repertoire.

 

Continue To Page 2: Uses For Pepper Jelly

 

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