The Habanero: Breaking Down the Popular Pepper

If you’re a hot pepper enthusiast, you’re probably familiar with the habanero. As one of the oldest and most popular varieties of chilies, it’s a favorite among heat lovers. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this pepper so special!

How to Recognize their Appearance

As of today, there are eighteen known varieties of the habanero. With such a wide variety of peppers, each one has its own unique flavor and heat level. The colors include red, orange, yellow, white, pink, purple, and brown (chocolate). Although there’s some variation between the papers, each pepper will be sure to give a punch of heat.

How do you know which pepper to choose? The white and green peppers are milder, while red and orange are the spiciest. Red and orange are also the most common varieties. These peppers are covered in thin, smooth skin that has a waxy texture. A common visual trait is having vertical ridges that stretch from top to bottom.

Habanero Color Varieties
Habanero Peppers Come in a Variety of Colors

Sometimes habaneros are mistaken for Scotch bonnets, which is understandable since they’re both members of the same species, the capsicum . However, the average Scotch bonnet is a little spicier than the average habanero. You can usually tell these two peppers apart based on their appearance. The peppers are usually about 2.5 inches long, which is an inch bigger than most Scotch B.

Flavor Profile

Pouring Habanero Powder

With a pleasant, crisp texture, they are also overflowing with flavor. Despite the extreme heat, you’ll also taste some sweetness with hints of floral and fruity notes when eating a habanero. They pair well with sweet fruits like mangos that help counter the habanero’s spice level.

You can find habaneros in hot sauces, marinades, salsas, jerk seasonings, and more. In Mexico, it’s common to find peppers in bottles of tequila or mescal to add an extra kick to drinks. Always be cautious when handling and cooking with them. Thoroughly wash your hands after handling these peppers or wear gloves for extra protection. If you ever want to tone down the heat, discard the seeds.

Simply cooking the pepper also tends to make the heat more manageable. But if it’s too late and your mouth is already burning, drinking milk or eating any dairy product is the most effective way to extinguish its fiery wrath.

How Hot are these Peppers?

Habaneros range from 100,000 to 500,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The higher the number of SHU, the hotter the pepper. This number indicates the number of times that chili oil from a specific pepper needed to be diluted with sugar water until they could no longer detect any heat. Wilbur Scoville invented this test over a hundred years ago. If you would like to learn more about the Scoville Scoville Scale be sure to check out our Complete Guide to the Scoville Scale by clicking here.

Wilbur Scoville
Wilber Scoville

Although the burn is intense, you won’t experience it for very long. Generally, habanero chilies are grouped among the hottest chili pepper varieties, but it’s toward the bottom of that group. Several hot peppers measure double, triple, or more units on the Scoville scale. Red Savina is the hottest of all habanero peppers measuring 500,000 SHU. This plant originated in the United States. Frank Garcia grew the first-ever Red Savina in Walnut, California.

Generally, the Habaneros you grow yourself will pack more of a punch than the ones you can find at the grocery store. When dried and combined with hundreds or even thousands of pepper to make a powder or flake product the heat will average out to give a more moderate SHU rating. Some of the peppers are by nature going to be hotter, some will be more mild, by crushing them all together you will get a standard SHU rating as seen in the chart below. If you crave the extreme heat, wait as long as possible to pick them. As the pepper changes to darker and deeper colors, its heat will also increase. You also do not want to wait too long though as peppers tend to rot from within, once a pepper is a vibrant color it is the best time to pick them.

Scoville Scale Chart
Pepper scale

Where to Find Them

The habanero has had a long and complicated journey that has taken it all over the world. This pepper’s name translates to “from Havana” The proper Cuban name for Havana is actually La Habana. Not only are habaneros commonly found in Mexican cuisine, but they are also commonly grown in Mexico. You can find them grown in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula than in any other part of the world. This is exactly where we grow Sonoran Spice Habanero Peppers.

Map of Mexico

At one point, it was thought that the pepper came from China, but now it’s more commonly thought to have first grown in the Amazon. Archaeologists discovered a habanero from 6,500 B.C. It is easily grown in other hot climates such as Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, and even warmer parts of the United States like Texas and California. Some habaneros also grow in the Caribbean.

The Portuguese had their first experience with habaneros after Columbus visited the Caribbean islands toward the end of the 15th century. Eventually, the pepper migrated to Africa. Due to its popularity, habanero peppers can easily be found in most grocery stores and are incorporated into many meals.

How to Grow Your Own

As there’s such high demand farmers have begun to grow them using hydroponics, allowing them to grow much more quickly and in a smaller, less-spread-out space. When habaneros are more traditionally grown, they should be placed in acidic soil for the best results. Even though they need to grow in a warm climate, too much sun can damage the peppers.

You should plant your habanero seeds only about a half-inch deep, and each seed should be about eighteen inches apart. Approximately six weeks after you’ve planted your seeds, you can start fertilizing them with nitrogen. Only use about one-fourth tablespoon per plant in the soil six inches away from the plants. Most habanero plants grow to be four or feet tall, but some can grow as high as seven feet tall! Habaneros should always be picked before colder weather sets in.

Their Health Benefits

Studies have shown that spicy food lovers tend to live longer than those who avoid hot foods. So not only are habaneros delicious, but they are also extremely beneficial for your health. Packed full of Vitamin C your immune system powerhouse! You can get 100% of your daily intake from just one habanero—that’s more Vitamin C than you get from eating an orange! There’s also a healthy amount of Vitamin A.

Habanero Nutrition Chart

Like all hot peppers, habaneros get their spiciness from capsaicin. Capsaicin has several health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties. It also raises your metabolism, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight. They also help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol down.

Hot peppers can also make you happy! Capsaicin triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins are your body’s natural pain relievers, while dopamine is a neurotransmitter that, among other things, makes you feel happy. This is why eating hot foods can feel addictively good sometimes!

Every year, more people jump on the spicy food bandwagon. The culinary world is becoming increasingly creative with ways of making super spicy and delicious at the same time. It’s one of the few extremely hot peppers that’s easily accessible at the grocery store.

There’s nothing better than a habanero! Whether you’re interested in the health benefits, the flavor, or its extreme heat, this hot pepper exceeds expectations.

The Popularity Over Time

Habanero Google Trends

What do these trends reveal? Habanero peppers trend higher during the late Summer months corresponding to around the time harvest is occurring. They begin showing up more commonly in grocery stores and online around this time since they are readily available. The opposite is true during the winter after the last harvests of the year which usually occur in late September and early October.

Make Your Own Habanero Pepper Hot Sauce

Make your own habanero hot sauce

Looking to make your own hot sauce? Try this recipe from Taste of Home:

Or try this homemade hot sauce recipe from A Virtual Vegan:

Charred Habanero Oil Recipe on Food52

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