Habanero peppers are very spicy chili peppers, well known all around the world. The pepper is defined by its high heat level and small, wrinkled texture. They have a very fruity, unique flavor, but are often found to be too spicy for eating without cooking or preparing first. The Habanero pepper has a somewhat mysterious history, with an uncertain origin (more on that later).
Basic Info About Habaneros
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If you’re interested in learning more about Habaneros, this article is made for you. I’ll share everything I know about the pepper, from the best ways to use the peppers, to how to grow them yourself at home and more!
- Where are Habaneros From?
- Habanero Characteristics
- Habanero Pepper Scoville Rating
- Varieties Of Habaneros
- Growing Habaneros
- Using Habaneros At Home
Where Are Habaneros From?
The word “Habanero” literally means “from Habana” or Havana, Cuba. In the modern-day, this region does grow the peppers, but it is unlikely that the pepper was first found on the island. The name is more likely a result of Habana being one of the first regions to cultivate the crop and grow is at scale.
As mentioned before, the history of the Habanero is a bit uncertain. However, being of the Capsicum chinense species, the general region that the Habanero pepper came from is well accepted. The Habanero, along with hundreds of other capsicum chinense varieties, originally comes from the lowlands of the Amazon, later spreading North into Mexico and the West Indies.
Today, the pepper is cultivated on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, where an estimated 1400 acres (~2 square miles) of land are dedicated to growing Habanero peppers. The peppers are also grown extensively in North America and are widely available at markets across North and South America.
Characteristics Of The Habanero Pepper
The Habanero, like all of the c. chinense varieties of pepper, has a sweet, floral aroma. The Habanero has a medium-sized pod, ranging in color from green when unripe, changing to red, orange, yellow, brown and even purple when ripe.
The plant’s height can range from about 1-4 feet depending on the environmental conditions, with an average of around 2 feet in a typical North American garden.
When grown as perennials, some Habanero plants have grown to more than 8 feet tall in tropical climates.DeWitt, Dave. The Field Guide to Peppers. Portland: Timber Press 2015. Print.
Plants are very prolific, often producing upwards of 40 peppers on a single plant in one growing season. However, the shining characteristic of the Habanero pepper is not its look, but it’s intense heat.
Habanero Pepper Scoville Rating
The Habanero pepper is a hot one. The species has a very wide range of heat levels, but it is generally accepted that Habanero peppers have a Scoville rating ranging from 200,000 – 350,000 SHUs. However, one study has shown levels reaching over 800,000 SHUs with favorable soil, temperature and humidity levels for producing capsaicinoids.
Basically, what this means is that the Habanero pepper is very spicy. A single pepper can go a long way toward making a large dish very spicy. If you decide to cook with Habaneros, but don’t want too much heat, try removing the placenta and seeds (diagram). This is where the highest concentration of capsaicin exists.
Tip: Always be sure you use gloves when handling your Habaneros. Even a tiny dab of pepper juices can irritate the skin, and especially the eyes.
Other Types Of Habanero Pepper
Since its discovery, botanists and plant breeders alike have been producing new varieties of the Habanero. With plant breeding becoming more and more popular in recent years, there are now several types of Habanero peppers that you can try growing yourself. Here are a few of the interesting varieties of Habanero available on the market.
Grow these to put some interesting color into your garden. Maturing to a deep brown color, the chocolate Habanero is a beautiful variety of the pepper. Still very spicy with the same delicious, fruity flavor of the original Habanero, this pepper goes well in hot sauces or dried pepper powders.
Love the tasty flavor of the Habanero, but want to be able to eat more than 1/4 of a pepper? The Habanada was bred to have the same great taste, but none of the heat of the original pepper. If you have experience with Habaneros, tasting a Habanada is strange the first time, with the expectation of intense heat. This may be a novelty, but it can be great for cooking and making less spicy hot sauces with the great Habanero flavor.
This is another color variation of the Habanero. There isn’t much else different characteristically other than the strange, mustardy brown color that the peppers become. Great for adding variety to the garden, or just another variety to try if you’ve already grown Habaneros and want a change.
One of the hotter varieties of Habanero, the Red Savina ranks around 500,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale. This makes it an intensely hot pepper, bred in California over many years to produce more capsaicin. If the regular Habanero just isn’t hot enough for you, the Red Savina will step things up considerably!
Growing Habanero Peppers
Growing peppers at home is easy. Most varieties take very little maintenance, and the Habanero plant in particular tends to produce lots of peppers every year. If you like spicy food, growing one or two plants, either in pots or in the ground, is a great way to get plenty of heat into your home cooking!
Where to Buy Habanero Seeds Online
Peppers seeds are available from many online retailers, but I tend to recommend either rareseeds or Semillas for finding more interesting varieties. If you want to try something like the Chocolate Habanero or the related Bhut Jolokia, these resources will have what you need.
If you simply want to grow the standard Habanero pepper, try Amazon for a familiar ordering process and a great return policy.
When To Plant Habanero Seeds Inside
Habaneros tend to have a long growing period. Originating from the Amazon forest, the plants need lots of direct sunlight and a long warm season to produce prolifically. This means that most North American growers will need to start their Habanero plants indoors in late winter, before transplanting outdoors for the growing season.
For most growers in hardiness zones 4-7, Habaneros should be planted indoors between February 15 – March 15th. Plants are then hardened off and transplanted outside around May 1st, or whenever the risk of frost has subsided.
Tip: Use Garden.org’s planting tool to see exactly when you should plant your Habanero seeds indoors.
How Long Until Habanero Plant Produces Peppers
Most Habanero varieties are very late to harvest, with peppers ready to pick around 80-90 days after transplanting outdoors. This growing length can vary significantly depending on the amount of direct sunlight and fertilization during the season.
Most seed packets will give you a harvesting window for your particular pepper strain, so be sure to keep the seed packet after planting for reference. If the expected harvest date has arrived and your peppers don’t seem ripe, this could be due to lack of nutrients or lack of sunlight. Try to position your Habanero plants in the perfect place to get the most sun!
How to Get More Habanero Peppers
Habanero plants typically produce 30-40+ peppers per plant in ideal conditions. This means that if your plant only produces 5 or 10 peppers, you’re missing out! There are a number of ways to get more peppers per plant, including fertilizing, pruning plants in the early season, and avoiding heat stress.
How To Know When Habaneros Are Ripe
Some people have difficulty knowing when to pick Habanero peppers. It can be hard to decide whether or not to pick your peppers if you’re not sure they’re ripe. Thankfully, Habaneros give us a number of signs that they are ready to be picked. Look for these clear signals that a Habanero is ripe and ready for harvest:
- Peppers have turned orange or red
- Peppers have white marks
- 90+ days have passed since planting outside
If your Habaneros are still green, they are not ready to be picked. Be patient, as Habaneros take a long time to mature! People commonly pick underripe Habaneros because they can often appear to stay the exact same color and shape for weeks before beginning to turn orange or red. If you wait, they will eventually turn!
Note: If your Habaneros are still green when the threat of frost arrives, it is okay to pick your peppers before ripening. They are still edible, but they may be less spicy and may not have fully formed seeds for planting in the next season.
What To Do With Habaneros
Since Habanero peppers are so potent, it is common to preserve them for use throughout the year. There are many options for doing this, and most of them are quick and easy, making your harvest last much longer. Here are a few easy methods to use your Habaneros for the long term.
Make Habanero Powder
Dehydrating and grinding Habaneros is a great way to keep your peppers for 1 year or longer. Dried pepper flakes or powder are great to use as a meat rub or for spicing up soups or stews. They will keep for a long time outside of the refrigerator, and it is simple to do.
Make Habanero Hot Sauce
Hot sauce is quite possibly the best use for fresh Habaneros. Making hot sauce at home is also a fun way to use up your peppers. You can experiment with different flavors and make a truly unique hot sauce to enjoy at home and with friends.
Habaneros work well when mixed with other pepper varieties, and I particularly like them with tropical fruits. This gives the sauce a great blend of heat and flavor that goes well with lots of food, like pizza, tacos and much more.
Make Spicy Salsa
Salsa is traditionally made with jalapeño peppers, but if you like it with some extra kick (and we assume you do…) try adding in some fresh Habaneros. Not only does it spice things up, but the flavors work really well with the other ingredients in salsa.
Another great way to use Habaneros in salsa is to smoke them first or roast them to help reduce the intensity of heat. This can also add great rich flavor to your peppers before using them in a tasty salsa.
Tip: Try adding in some peach or pineapple for a sweet and spicy tropical take on your homemade Habanero salsa.
Give Them To Friends and Family
Don’t forget about your friends or family members who like spicy food! Giving fresh peppers, or preserved peppers as a gift is a great present. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I receive a new hot sauce or spicy treat as a gift. Share your bounties!
Other Ways to Preserve
If you want a more complete list of preservation methods for your Habaneros, see our guide to preserving peppers here. We cover all of the most popular methods to keep your hot peppers from spoiling for longer.
I hope this article helped you learn more about the Habanero pepper plant. Good luck growing and cooking with your Habaneros, and be sure to share with us on social @PepperGeek!