The habanero is named after the Cuban city of La Habana, known in the U.S. as Havana, because it used to feature in heavy trading there. It grows mainly on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, where it is now thought to have originated, though it also grows in other hot climates including in Belize, in Costa Rica, in parts of the United States, and in Panama where it is known as the aji chombo.
Early versions of the habanero pepper were much different than the domesticated version you see today. The habanero originally started as a small wild chile pequin. After thousands of years of breeding and growing, the wild pepper has evolved into the popular hot pepper we know.
Habaneros are one of the hottest chili peppers around in terms of popularity and of Scoville units! While many range from a still-eye-watering 200,000 to 300,000 Scovilles, some have ranged from a scorching 450,000 to a blistering 600,000 Scovilles, thus knocking the socks off of a common jalapeño pepper that usually ranks from 2,500 to 8,000 Scovilles.
With its terrific heat, its hint-of-citrus and fruity flavor and its flowery aroma, it has once again become a well-loved ingredient in many preparations including hot sauces and other spicy foods. In Mexico, it is sometimes soaked in tequila or mezcal bottles for days or even weeks in order to make drinks even more fiery.
There are many different types of habaneros that have been created through selective breeding. They come in several different shapes and colours, from vibrant red to orange, to chocolate brown and even white. They are cultivated and crossed for these particular characteristics, particularly for variations in heat.
These are still habaneros, so there’s a fruity sweetness behind the extreme heat. But unlike other hot peppers in the family, the chocolates bring a unique hint of earthiness and smokiness to the experience.