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19 March 2012

Exactly how hot is a habanero pepper?

You may be curious to cook with habanero peppers, but you’ve heard that they are so hot that they’ll leave you in pain. This does not have to be the case. There are many ways to cook with habanero peppers that won’t destroy your taste buds.

We cook with habanero peppers all the time. We love the heat. We actually depend on that heat. Habaneros can range from pretty darned hot to tongue scorching, so it is best to proceed with caution if you’re not accustomed to spicy food.

Still, habanero peppers bring a wonderful fruity flavor to your dishes that you won’t get anywhere else, so they should not be ignored.

Measuring Chili Pepper Heat

Chili pepper heat is measured in Scoville Units, ranging from 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHU) for the exceedingly mild bell pepper to over 2 Million SHU for the new heat champ, the Carolina Reaper (former champ: Trinidad Moruga Scorpion). Habanero peppers range in Scovilles from 60,000 SHU to 800,000 SHU, making them some of the hottest chili peppers around. The most common orange habaneros that you’ll find in many stores typically range between 100,000 SHU and 350,000 SHU.

Learn more about the Scoville Scale here.

Taming the Habanero Pepper Heat

But do not fear. Here are some basic tips to help you enjoy the outstanding flavor of the wonderful habanero pepper.

  • Core the Habanero Pepper. Removing the insides of the pepper will remove much of the heat. The chemical that makes peppers hot, capsaicin, resides in the whitish membranes within the pepper. You’ll still have plenty of heat with the membranes removed, but it will be reduced considerably.
  • Keep Dairy On Hand. Dairy products help deactivate capsaicin. If you find your mouth burning, drink milk or add sour cream to the meal.
  • Dilute! If you’re unaccustomed to the heat of very hot chili peppers, make a large portion of your meal and only use half a habanero. A little heat will go a long way, and will dilute over the large meal.

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