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Profile of the Habanero Pepper Product Information Sheet
Excerpted from the Whole Chile Pepper Magazine
(July 1989)

Nomenclature:
In Spanish, the word means 'Havana like,' or possibly 'from Havana,' referring to Havana, Cuba as a possible origin for the pod. It is the only chile growing in the Yucatan which has no Mayan name, leading to speculation that it was imported there from Cuba. However, this chile is now unknown in Cuba. Other names for the Habanero are 'Scot's Bonnet' or Scotch Bonnet,' commonly used in the English-speaking Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, and 'Bahamian' or 'Bahama Mama' in the Bahamas.

Botanical Description:
This chile pepper belongs to a different species than most pods utilized in the United States. It is not Capsicum annuum but rather Capsicum chinense. Under cultivation, the plants average between 3 and 4 1/2 feet tall. In the tropics the chile grows as a perinnial; Habanero trees eight feet high and as many wide have been reported growing semi-wild in Costa Rica. The leaves are large, about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The plant sets 2 to 6 fruits per axil, and the fruits are oblong with an undulating shape. Some varieties of Habaneros are pointed at the end, but others are flattened at the end and resemble a tam or a bonnet. They are 1 to 2 1/2 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide and usually grow pendant on the plant. Although green when immature, the Habanero can grow to a variety of colors: red, orange, yellow, or white. Orange is the preferred color in most areas, although some sauce manufacturers believe the bright red Habaneros make the most colorful product.

Heat Scale:
According to sources who have tested Habaneros with high-pressure liquid heat chromatography (HLPC), these are the hottest chiles in the world, measuring between 200,000 and 300,000 Scoville Units. (Compared to about 5000 for a hot jalapeño.) However, not all Habaneros are this fiery, as experienced tasters of this chile will attest. Still it registers a 10 on the WCP Official Heat Scale.

Horticultural History:
Although the exact origin of this chile is unknown, ethnobotanist Barbara Pickersgill suggest that since most wild species of C. chinense occur in South America , it makes sense to think that the Habanero originated there and migrated into the Caribbean and Central America by way of Columbia. An intact fruit of a small domesticated Habanero was found in Pre-ceramic levels in Guitarrero Cave in the Peruvian highlands and was dated to 6500 B.C., so it is evident that mankind has been growing these fiery fruits for at least 85 centuries.

Agricultural Aspects:
Most of the commercial plantings of Habaneros are in the Yucatan Peninsula - mainly in México but also in northern Belize. The cultivars most commonly grown in México are called INIA and Uxmal. Seventy-five percent of the crop is consumed fresh, 22% is processed into sauces, and 3% is saved for seeds. There are small commercial fields in Jamaica and Trinidad, but in most of the Caribbean basin chiles are grown in family plots adjoining cornfields. Lately, a great demand for Habaneros has prompted increased commercial growing in parts of the United States and throughout Central America, primarily in Costa Rica. Habaneros grow well as annuals in the home garden. The seeds require quite a long time to germinate and benefit from bottom heating. The growing period varies from 80 to 120 days, depending on climate. The yield also varies considerably, but a medium sized plant can produce
over a quart of pods.

Legend and Lore:
The Dominican priest Francisco Ximenez wrote in 1722 of a chile from Havana that was so strong that a single pod would 'make a bull unable to eat.' Its reputation as the hottest chile is making the Habanero both infamous and sought-after. Méxican chile expert Arturo Lomeli observes: "It is a great passion of those who love the heat because without doubt it is the hottest variety known. It has an unmistakable flavor - very characteristic.

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