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.