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What is a Habanero Pepper?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A habanero pepper is one of the spiciest types of chili peppers. In Spanish, habanero means "from Havana," and this pepper originally was transported from Cuba to the Yucatán Peninsula. Habaneros are now grown mainly in the Yucatán, as well as in Costa Rica, Belize and parts of the United States — mainly California and Texas. Habanero peppers are often used as ingredients in hot sauce.

The species name of the habanero pepper plant is Capsicum chinense Jacquin, and it is part of the Solanaceae family. This plant grows to a height of 9.4-14.2 inches (24-36 cm), and the pepper reaches about 1.0-2.5 inches (2.54-6.35 cm) in length. Most habanero pepper varieties ripen from green to orange and have a Scoville heat rating of 150,000-325,000. This makes the habanero one of the spiciest of the capsicum peppers.

The Scoville system for rating the amount of heat in chili peppers was invented by a German scientist named Wilbur Scoville. His system is not completely scientific, because the tests are based on human tasting and are quite subjective. Still, Scoville units help greatly in comparing the approximate spiciness levels between different types of peppers. The Scoville taste tests use different chili peppers mixed with a neutral-tasting food and the amounts of the pepper used are gradually decreased to see how long the testers can still keep tasting the heat of the pepper that is used.

There are several varieties of habanero peppers, including a trademarked variety, Red Savina™, that is among the world's hottest peppers. The chocolate and the scutaba are other varieties of the habanero pepper. Chocolate habaneros have a wrinkled appearance and start as a green plant with cream-colored flowers; they ripen to a chocolate brown color. The Scutaba habanero is a smooth-skinned and flavorful variety of habanero that is red in color.

Some people mistakenly believe that the seeds of a chili pepper are its spiciest part. Actually, the spiciest part of the habanero pepper and other chilis is the pungent lipids called capsaicinoids. They are found in the highest concentrations in the sacs of the inside walls of the pepper; only a small amount of capsaicinoids are contained in the seeds. A habanero pepper is strong enough to irritate a person's eyes and skin, so many people handle even the outside of habaneros with gloves.

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Discussion Comments
By anon354729 — On Nov 11, 2013

What form of the habanero is the hottest? A raw habanero or the pickled ones in a jar from a grocery store?

By anon139176 — On Jan 03, 2011

Ghost pepper a.k.a. Bhut Jolokia is no longer the hottest pepper. it is now the Naga Viper, with over 1.3 million Scoville units.

By anon123553 — On Nov 02, 2010

This was stated on t.v. the other day that the Jolokia is the worlds Hottest Pepper. As far as the Scotch Bonnet and the Habanero pepper? They are equally hot. Their Scoville ratings are identical. The Red Savina Pepper is a Habanero pepper. So the only pepper that is hotter than the Habanero is the Jolokia with a Scoville Heat Unit of 1,000,000.

By anon98502 — On Jul 23, 2010

ghost pepper is the hottest.

By Slothrop — On Jul 21, 2010

@Yossarian – You are correct that the Habanero is not the hottest pepper, but it's worth noting that the others you mentioned are much less common in food precisely because they are so intense.

I am also not certain that the Scotch Bonnet pepper is actually hotter than the Habanero. It probably depends on variety.

By Yossarian — On Jul 21, 2010

The habanero pepper is commonly, and mistakenly, thought to be the hottest pepper. In reality, its heat is exceeded by that of the Naga Jolokia pepper, the Scotch Bonnet pepper, and the Red Savina pepper, amongst others.

By sputnik — On Nov 14, 2009

Habanero peppers, which have rather thin skin, will last longer at a cooler temperature, such as in the refrigerator. They will loose moisture faster at room temperature.

Habaneros, as well as other pepper varieties like the temperature somewhere between 45 and 55 Fahrenheit.

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