Hot for Habs

A brief introduction to the Chilli of the Month

The Habanero chilli, a yellowy-orange variety from the Yucatan Peninsula, is diminutive in size, but more than makes up for that in fire! Rated “exceptionally hot” on the Scoville (chilli heat) scale, this puts it in the same league as varieties like the Scotch Bonnet.

Its full name,
Capsicum Chinense, or the “Chinese Pepper” is actually misleading. The Habanero is not from China at all, but originates from the coastal areas of Mexico. When Europeans discovered the American continent, they quickly sent the Habanero variety to be grown in suitable climates around the world, China being one of the most prominent of these. In the 18th century, China was then wrongly identified as its place of origin. The word “Habanero” itself derives from the Cuban city of Havana, for centuries an important trading post for this variety.
Before ripening, Habanero chillies almost universally display a green colouring. Although they are most commonly shades of light red, orange or yellow, Habaneros have been known to appear in white, brown and pink.

These are seriously hot chillies – if you want to add some throat-tingling spice to your recipes, the Habanero may well be the variety for you. If you struggle with chilli heat at the best of times, however, it would be best to leave these well alone!

Habaneros can be used in a large variety of recipes. They are most commonly found in sauces, but can be widely (if sparingly!) used in many other ways: in fact, sautéed meat or shellfish with habanero and olive oil is a well known traditional cooking method. But that's not all – in Mexico, you are just as likely to find a Habanero hiding at the bottom of a bottle of tequila or mescal! As with all chillies, Habaneros offer sound health benefits, including being an excellent source of vitamins A and C, as well as aiding the digestion.

There are several different varieties of the Habanero chilli, including the Chocolate Habanero, White Habnero, Paper Lantern and the Red Savina Habanero. The Red Savina is one of the most revered and feared chilli varieties in existence. This particular strain once held the world record for the World's Hottest Chilli, with a literally breathtaking Scoville rating of up to 570,000. Phew!

Habaneros are often compared to Scotch Bonnet chillies, and it's true that these two varieties do have a great deal in common. They are a similar size, and both have that characteristic lantern-like shape. They both have thin, waxy skin and have very similar Scoville ratings. But why is the Habanero chilli so popular? Sure, it's hot – very hot. But it's not
just hot. As well as their exceptional heat, Habaneros are recognised as having a fruity, almost citrus flavour, making them so suited to sauces. And that's why the Habanero chilli is the connoisseur's choice.

Article by Rebecca Berridge.