Habanero Chili Flavor Guide: Flavor, Heat, Uses
Habanero Chili Flavor Guide: Flavor, Heat, Uses
The habanero is pretty much the definition of a hot pepper. Salsa, tacos, hot sauce—this chili pepper makes an appearance in all of them. And as you might have guessed, it’s pretty dang spicy. In fact, these peppers are so hot that you have to wear gloves when preparing them.
Habaneros come from the Capsicum chinense species and originate from the Amazon, so they’re pretty at home in hot, steamy weather–just like us. Today, the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico is the world’s largest producer of habaneros, but these bad boys have made their way around the world.
Before habaneros mature, they’re small, round, and usually either orange or red. Once fully grown, habaneros are about an inch long. There are eighteen known varieties, each with its own flavor and level of spiciness. Within these varieties, there are many different colored habaneros, including red, orange, yellow, white, pink, purple, and brown. It’s literally a rainbow of fire.
Want to hear more about how to punch up the spice level? We’ve got everything you need to know about habaneros here.
What Do Habaneros Taste Like
Habaneros have a firm outer layer with a soft inside, which gives you a nice crunch if you’re brave enough to bite in raw.
On the first bite, you’ll immediately be hit with a wave of spice, which can be pretty overpowering. Once you get over the tongue-tingling heat, you’ll first start to notice a hint of smokiness, which will then turn to sweet. Believe it or not, habaneros often feature floral and notes. That’s part of why they pair so well with tropical fruits like mangos (psst—if you haven’t tried this iconic duo yet, our Chili Mango kombucha is ready and waiting).
Ultimately, the flavor profile of your habanero depends on what type of habanero it is. The most commonly seen are the Caribbean Red habanero and the Scotch Bonnet. Some people like to test their tastebuds with the Red Savina, a version of the habanero that’s even spicier.
How Hot Is the Habanero?
So exactly how hot is a habanero chili? Well, they typically range from 100,000 to 500,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Translation: hella hot.
Scovilles are the standard unit of measurement for determining how spicy a food or drink is. This scale of spiciness was invented over a century ago by Wilbur Scoville.
The higher SHU, the hotter the food or drink is. To put this insane level of spiciness into context, let’s take a look at some other peppers’ Scoville measurements.
- A regular bell pepper has 0 SHU
- A jalapeño pepper has 4,000-10,000 SHU
- The serrano pepper has 10,000-20,000 SHU
- The cayenne pepper has 30,000-50,000 SHU
- The ghost pepper has 100,000-300,000 SHU.
With the Red Savina clocking in at 500,000 SHU, most of these peppers don’t even come close to the heat of a habanero. This habanero is the hottest of its kind, and it really does bring the heat.
Are There Hotter Peppers?
Ready to be terrified? Habaneros aren’t even the hottest pepper—not even close. We usually think about habaneros as pretty dang hot, but they rank toward the bottom of the spicy pepper clique.
Meet the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, the 7 Pot Douglah, and the 7 Pot Primo, a trio of super spicy peppers that are at the top of the spice game. Ruling over all of them is the Carolina Reaper, with an insane Scoville content of 2.2 million. If the Trinidad Moruga and the 7 Pot varieties are Gretchen Wieners and Karen Smith, the Carolina Reaper is Regina George, the hottest, scariest one of them all.
So, Where Do Habaneros Grow?
As mentioned, the Yucatán Peninsula is responsible for much of the world’s habanero supply. Contrary to popular belief, though, this pepper doesn’t originate from Mexico. The name of the chili actually translates to “from Havana,” but it’s not Cuban, either. Let’s dive into the curious case of the traveling chili.
A lot of people believed that the habanero came from China, until a group of archaeologists discovered an ancient habanero from the Amazon. This artifact was determined to be from 6,500 B.C., making it the oldest recorded use of the pepper. We’re talking older than ceramics—peppers came before plates, apparently.
Today, the habanero can be grown in practically any climate that’s hot. Countries like Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize bring the spice, but it’s also grown in warmer areas of the United States like Texas and California and in the Caribbean.
How Habaneros Are Grown
Traditionally, habaneros are grown in acidic soil in a warm climate. Just don’t let them sit out in the sun for too long. Excessive exposure to the sun can cause damage to the peppers.
Plant the seeds about a half-inch deep, about eighteen inches apart from each other. Six weeks after you plant them, start fertilizing them with nitrogen. Use about a fourth of a tablespoon per plant and apply the nitrogen to the soil six inches away from the plants.
When they’re done growing, they should be about four feet tall. Some plants can get as high as seven feet! If you’ve ever wanted to feel dwarfed by a plant (that isn’t a tree), now’s your shot.
Nowadays, farmers are using hydroponics to grow habaneros, allowing them to use less land and grow them more quickly.
The longer a habanero is left on the stem, the hotter it’ll be. You’ll be able to tell it’s getting spicier as it becomes darker in color.
Uses for Habanero Chiles
Tons of recipes include habaneros, and they can incorporate a tasty, fresh heat into a meal that will leave you wanting more. While they’re common in Mexican dishes, you’re definitely not limited to that.
Use habaneros in your salsa and hot sauce, or turn them into chili powder. Throw some slices of habanero into your chili or your stir-fry as well. You can even pickle them and eat them as a snack, if you like to live on the wild side. And if you find your dish a little too spicy? You can always cool your mouth down with a smooth, refreshing Grapefruit Paloma or a can of Blood Orange Mint Kombucha.
Some people even use a dash of habanero to spice up their cocktails—spicy margs and bloody marys, anyone? In Mexico, you might even find this pepper infused into bottles of tequila and mezcal.
The habanero is ready to spice up any event. For your next meal, get creative! There are a ton of different uses for the habanero. See how you can blend in a bit of heat into your plate with just a few morsels of this pepper.
If you’re into spicy drinks and less work, look no further! We’ve worked diligently to create the perfect hard drink for the spice lovers out there. The result is our Chili Mango Hard Kombucha, a blend of juicy, organic mangos with just a dash of habanero chili added to it.
On a scale of 1-5, we rate this drink a 4.5, in terms of spiciness. With just three grams of sugar and seven grams of carbs, this hard kombucha provides a ton of complexity! So whether you pair it with some flaming hot fajitas or you just want to kick back by the pool, this drink will show you the best that habaneros have to offer.