Habanero Chili Pepper
Scoville Heat Units: 100,000 – 350,000 SHU
This pepper is named after the Cuban city of La Habana, known here as Havana, because it used to feature in heavy trading there. It is related to the Scotch bonnet pepper; they have somewhat different pod types but are varieties of the same species and have similar heat levels.
The habanero pepper grows mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, where it is now thought to have originated, though it also grows in other hot climates including in Belize, in Costa Rica, in parts of the United States, and in Panama where it is known as the aji chombo.
Once the Spanish had discovered it, they spread it far and wide around the world, so much so that taxonomists in the 18th century thought it originated in China and therefore named it “Capsicum chinense” or the “Chinese pepper.” If anything, this pepper’s popularity is even more on the rise today.
About Habanero Peppers
Before maturity the habanero is green, but as it ages its coloring ranges from yellow-orange to orange to bright red, depending upon when its harvesting occurs, and it can even appear pink or dark brown. Its size ranges from 1 to 2 1/2 inches in length and from 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and its shape, like that of the Scotch bonnet pepper, can be compared to that of a Scottish Tam o’ Shanter hat.
Both types of pepper also typically have flesh that is thin and waxy.
We absolutely LOVE jalapeño peppers, and they are our favorite chili pepper of all, but that doesn’t mean we can’t love other chili peppers as well! Try some of these on for size!
The habanero pepper, with its terrific heat, its hint-of-citrus flavor and its flowery aroma has once again become a well-loved ingredient in many preparations including hot sauces and other spicy foods. In Mexico, the habanero pepper is sometimes soaked in tequila or mezcal bottles for days or even weeks in order to make drinks even more fiery.
How Hot Are Habanero Peppers?
Did we talk about how hot the habanero peppers can be? The habanero pepper is one of the hottest chili peppers around in terms of popularity AND of Scoville units! While many habaneros range from a still-eye-watering 200,000 to 300,000 Scovilles, some habanero peppers have ranged from a scorching 450,000 to a blistering 600,000 Scovilles, thus knocking the socks off of our lovely jalapeño pepper that usually ranks from 2,500 to 8,000 Scovilles.
Typical Habanero peppers range from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) which is anywhere from 12 to 100 times hotter than a Jalapeno.
To test the heat of your pepper, you can try taking a sliver and tasting it, and even chewing it up if you feel the initial taste is safe enough. Always remember, however, to handle the habanero with care; some experts even say that wearing gloves alone is not enough but that the gloves and cutting board should be cleaned with bleach and/or detergent after cutting the peppers to avoid spreading their capsaicin.
To decrease the heat of the habanero before adding it to your dishes, you can remove the inner white placental tissue.
On the Origins of the Habanero Chili Pepper
Early versions of the habanero pepper were much different than the domesticated version you see today. The habanero originally started as a small wild chile pequin. After thousands of years of breeding and growing, the wild pepper has evolved into the popular hot pepper we know.
This amazing pepper’s origins go back 8,500 years to the South American Rainforests of Brazil, where the Mayans brought them up Central American to Mexico. They are wildly popular in Mexico, now deeply ingrained in their culture.
Yucatan, Mexico, is the largest producer of habanero peppers in the world, exporting them all over the world. Habanero pepper grow perfectly in the Yucatan climate, with its unique soil and blazing sun. Because of this, habanero peppers grown in the Yucatan are superior to those grown anywhere else in the world.
Different Types of Habanero Peppers – Cultivars
There are many different types of habanero peppers that have been created through selective breeding. They come in several different shapes and colors, from vibrant red to orange, to chocolate brown and even white.
They are cultivated and crossed for these particular characteristics, particularly for variations in heat. Here are some of those variations:
- Mild or Sweet Habaneros
- Red Habanero
- Orange Habanero
- Caribbean Red
- Habanero Condor’s Beak
- Big Sun Habanero
- Golden Habanero
- Mustard Habanero
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper
- Hot Paper Lantern
- Red Savina
- Datil Peppers
- Peach Habanero
- Yucatan White Habanero Peppers
- White Bullet Habanero (TM)
- Peruvian White Habanero
- White Giant Habanero Peppers
- Jamaican Chocolate Habanero Peppers
The Red Savina is the hottest type of habanero pepper, and even once held the title of The Hottest Chili Pepper in the World. While it may no longer be one of the world’s hottest chili peppers, it still has a very respectable level of heat.
It measures in at 577,000 Scoville Heat Units. The Red Savina variety of Habanero was the Guinness Book of World Records holder for World’s Hottest Chili Pepper from 1994 to 2006 before being dethroned by the Bhut Jolokia.
Twice as hot as a typical habanero, the Red Savina was created in California through selective breeding to produce a hotter and larger version of the typical orange habanero. As its name suggests, it matures to a bright red.
The Red Savina was the first member of Capsicum chinense to be awarded a Plant Variety Protection Permit from the USDA and it is now grown commercially in Costa Rica and California. The extract of the Red Savina is often used in police grade pepper spray, but the chiles themselves are delicious (perhaps when used sparingly) in salsas, hot sauces and chutneys.
Preserving Habanero Peppers
The habanero pepper can be preserved simply by washing and drying the pods and then freezing them in a plastic bag. Alternatively, after pureeing them with vinegar, the peppers can be preserved in a refrigerator for several weeks.
They can even be dried in the pods after you slice them in a vertical fashion to remove the seeds, and then run them through a food dehydrator. Following drying, they are fine to store in jars or, again, in plastic bags in the freezer.
Dried or smoked peppers should properly be rehydrated for approximately half an hour before you use them, or you can grind dehydrated peppers into powder as well – though remember to wear a dust mask, of course! The habanero pepper goes well with many dishes including added raw to soups and salads, and it appears in lots of salsas and hot sauces with a little going a long way.
Habanero Vs. Jalapeno Heat – A Comparison
Habanero peppers range from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units, making them about up to 140 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper. That is a lot of heat!
Did we talk about how hot the habanero peppers can be? Measuring in between 100,000 – 250,000 Scoville Units, the habanero pepper is one of the hottest chili peppers around. In comparison, the jalapeno pepper ranks in with 2,500 – 8,000 units.