Habanero Pepper – Great Heat and Flavor
Scoville Heat Units: 100,000 – 350,000 SHU
The habanero 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.
It 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.
With its terrific heat, its hint-of-citrus and fruity flavor and its flowery aroma, it has once again become a well-loved ingredient in many preparations including hot sauces and other spicy foods.
In Mexico, it is sometimes soaked in tequila or mezcal bottles for days or even weeks in order to make drinks even more fiery.
On the Origins of the Habanero
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 rain forests 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.
What Does a Habanero Look Like?
Before maturity the pepper 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.
How Hot Are Habanero Peppers?
Habaneros are 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 have ranged from a scorching 450,000 to a blistering 600,000 Scovilles, thus knocking the socks off of a common jalapeño pepper that usually ranks from 2,500 to 8,000 Scovilles.
Also compare it to the extremely fiery ghost pepper, one of the super hots, which is just about 1 Million Scovilles. It’s not that far below.
Typical habaneros range from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) which is anywhere from 12 to 140 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.
Different Types of Habanero Peppers – Cultivars
There are many different types of habaneros 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
- Red Habanero
- Orange Habanero
- Caribbean Red
- Habanero Condor’s Beak
- Big Sun
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper
- Hot Paper Lantern
- Red Savina habanero
- Datil Peppers
- Yucatan White
- White Bullet Habanero (TM)
- Peruvian White
- White Giant
- Jamaican Chocolate