Scoville Heat Units (SHU): 100,000 – 350,000
Species: Capsicum Chinense
Flavor: Fruity, floral, very spicy
Habanero pepper is a spicy pepper featuring fruity and citrusy flavor. It is popular due to its intense heat and excellent flavor making it very useful in salsa, hot sauce, chili and any dish that you want to spice up a bit. The pods are small, 1-2” wide and 1.5-2.5” long and are generally orange or red in color when ripe. The name “Habanero” comes from the Cuban city of La Habana where it has been heavily traded for hundreds of years.
Habaneros originated in South America and is currently gown on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico though it grows in other hot climates in South and Central America. This wonderful pepper can be traced back at least 8,500 years to South American rain forests of Brazil where it was used and traded by the Mayans. Over the years the pepper spread in popularity and migrated north to Central America and Mexico. With Spanish exploration the pepper was discovered in South America and traded around the world in the 18th century. Today the pepper has continued to be very popular and is used in cuisine around the world.
Heat and Flavor
The habanero pepper generally ranks between 100,000-350,000 SHU while some growers have been able to produce habaneros that reach above 450,000 SKU. Comparing this to a Jalapeno pepper, which ranks 2,500-8,000 SHU, it is considered a very hot pepper. For your average person, consuming a raw habanero would spell disaster and cause a considerable amount of discomfort to the mouth, stomach and to any skin it contacts. In the world of “pepper heads” (individuals who enjoy the burning sensation from extremely spicy peppers), such as Johnny Scoville, the habanero would rank low and quite enjoyable due to its floral and smokey flavor.
Habanero peppers are one of my personal favorites because it is so easy to integrate into any dish that you want to add heat to without overpowering the dish or giving it the bark flavor that some other super-hot peppers tend to have. As you all know I love to make hot sauce and cook with spicy peppers. You can find recipes here from The Hot Sauce Cookbook. To learn more about the habanero pepper and its use, please visit some of the links at the end of this post.
Cooking With Habanero
Habanero peppers are used in all forms for cooking; Fresh, cooked, whole, sliced, diced, fermented and pureed are all very common forms of use. They present a beautiful color which can be used to brighten up a dish or even be used as a garnish. Example: Serving a mild bowl of chili with a side of whole, sliced or diced habanero is a great way to provide the option of increasing heat level and flavor profile while presenting a beautiful color addition to the presentation. *Please ensure you let your consumers know that the habanero pepper is very hot, so they don't get an unexpected surprise!
Use rubber or nitrile gloves when preparing any hot pepper. Skin protection is important because the oils from hot peppers will stick to your fingers and be easily transferred to ANYTHING you touch. When preparing hot peppers for use you should prepare your workspace prior to beginning work in order to minimize transfer of the capsaicin containing oils. Remove gloves when you are done working with the peppers and change gloves often. I have had gloves disintegrate during preparation of hot peppers so keep an eye on your gloves and replace as necessary or double up to maximize protection.
Wash your peppers thoroughly to remove dirt, debris and chemical pesticides. If you can, avoid using peppers that are grown using pesticides because they can contain these harmful chemicals even after washing. Once you have washed your peppers, dry them well and remove the stems (unless serving whole for visual effect).
If you are going to slice or dice your peppers, use a sharp knife to avoid smashing the peppers. Smashing the peppers will result in faster breakdown of the pepper tissue and will result in more airborne particles containing capsaicin which is an irritant to the mucus membranes of your eyes and can irritate your lungs and airways causing coughing. Nobody appreciates their food being coughed on before being served.
Depending on what dish you are making, you may choose to remove the seeds. There is a myth that removing seeds will reduce the heat level when including hot peppers in your cooking. It is actually the "pith" or placenta (white soft tissue that the seeds are attached to) that contains a higher amount of capsaicin. Removing the seeds may, however, be desirable if you do not want the seeds present in your dish due to their tough and sometimes chewy consistency. When preparing chili, it is not necessary to remove seeds due to its thick consistency and quantity of diverse ingredients. You may want to remove the seeds if you are preparing a thin sauce (such as spicy spaghetti sauce) or using sliced peppers for a garnish or salad topper.
There is no end to what you can use habanero peppers for in cooking. If you do a quick Googe search of "habanero recipes" you will find a long list of delicious sauces and meals that you can create with this beautiful pepper. The following are a couple of my favorites.
- Habanero cheese stuffed burgers
- Sweet BBQ habanero pulled pork sandwiches
- Spicy tomato soup
- Habanero beef spicy street tacos
- Habanero honey grilled shrimp
After you are done cooking with habanero peppers, it is important to clean your workspace especially well. Wash and rinse all tools used in the preparation of your peppers with soap and water. Dry your tools and discard the drying cloth immediately after to avoid transfer of capsaicin containing oils. Dispose of your gloves in the trash being careful not to touch your skin while you take them off. Wash your hands immediately after taking off your gloves and dry with a disposable cloth.
If you enjoyed this post please leave a comment and share with your friends and family that love spicy food! We are always looking for new ideas and would love to answer any questions you have about habanero peppers or cooking with habanero peppers.