There’s an ongoing, unspoken battle in some corners of the culinary world over how much heat one can possibly bring to the kitchen.
And with their capsaicin-crammed skins and seeds, habanero peppers often offer the knockout punch in these clashes. Which is why it’s lucky for chili-chasing chefs – and slightly masochistic eaters everywhere – that there are so many types of habanero peppers to bring to the fight.
(Almost) Too Hot to Handle
For those unfamiliar with the chili pepper world, habaneros have long been considered the top of the heat heap. The chili peppers register a whopping 350,000 on the Scoville scale, the official measure of chili pepper hotness. (We wrote all about how the scale works, if you want a refresher, but you can also take our word for it: That’s really, really hot!)
Habaneros actually take their name from the island of Cuba, being called after the Spanish name for the island nation’s capital, Havana. And the shriveled, spicy wonders are popular all across the Caribbean.
Still, like much of the world’s most deliciously piquant produce, these peppers got their start in Southern and Central America, first sprouting up around the Amazon rainforest, but really putting down roots a little further north, especially in Mexico. (In fact, archeologists discovered evidence of cultivated habanero pepper plants in the Yucatan peninsula dating back as far as 8,500 years ago!)
Today, the forces of nature, science and adrenaline-junky eaters have combined to push the boundaries of chili pepper hotness even further, and habaneros are officially the former heavyweight champions of the world, having since been surpassed by their spicy arch rivals, the Ghost Pepper of India and Jamaica’s Carolina Reaper – which register in the mind-boggling millions on the Scoville scale.
But many culinary experts still consider the habanero pepper the hottest edible chili out there, making it, typically, the hottest thing you can buy fresh at the grocery store.
Indeed, their taste factor makes habanero peppers a common ingredient in any number of hot sauces and spice rubs. That’s thanks, in part, to their unique and layered flavor profile, which mixes those big doses of heat with some citrus and a little smoke.
Many have a touch of tropical to their palette, making them popular pairings with fruity flavored dishes or sauces. Though, other types of habanero peppers lean more heavily on the earthy, smoky side, giving them a whole other dimension to add to the mix.
Thankfully, when it comes to these tests of tongue toughness, there’s no shortage of flavorful variety, with some of the most popular types of habanero peppers including:
Common Orange Habanero
As it says right in the name, this is one of the most common types of habanero pepper, both on grocery store shelves and hot sauce ingredients lists.
Their appearance is also pretty self-explanatory, with the tiny, shriveled peppers taking on the striking hue. Still, their heat mixes in with a healthy dose of fruity flavor and no shortage of sweetness, making them the full chili pepper package.
Caribbean Red Habanero
This type of habanero represents a more advanced level of spice-courting.
Caribbean reds are hotter than their orange cousins, with their spike of capsaicin pushing them to 445,000 on the Scoville scale. The pepper is especially popular in South and Central America and across its namesake islands, where it’s frequently used as a salsa ingredient.
Red Savina Habanero
Once you’ve graduated from Caribbean Red heat (or burned your tongue past the ability to taste anything), you can set the habanero pepper heat even higher with the Red Savina.
This fiery little demon was the previous official world record holder for hottest pepper, with a Scoville score of 577,000 – making them many times hotter than their comparatively mild orange cousins. Not for novices.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers
Have you ever tried Jamaican jerked food and shed an involuntary tear over the experience?
You can likely thank the Scotch Bonnet pepper for your eye-watering experience. These types of habanero peppers are usually a little more squished-looking than their stunted relatives, blossoming into shades of yellow and carrying the same type of tropical fruity flavor pallet and about the same amount of capsaicin as their common orange cousins.
On the flip side of fruity lives the chocolate habanero, a Jamaican chili pepper renowned for its deeply earthy, smoky taste.
True to name, these peppers typically come in shades of brown – or even black – but unlike most types of chocolate, they register a pretty big bite on your tongue, clocking in around 577,000 on the Scoville scale.
Grown primarily in the United States – and particularly in Florida – these types of habanero peppers take it a little bit easier on the mouth.
Datil peppers are one of the sweetest types of habaneros, rocking the pepper’s fruity flavor and a “mild” capsaicin count, registering at just 330,000 on the Scoville scale.
Peruvian White Habanero
Another pepper whose name gives it all away, these rare types of habaneros indeed originate from the South American nation, and often come in shades of white.
Peruvian Whites do look a little different than many types of habanero peppers, blossoming in a bit more of a bean shape, but their ability to deliver the heat is no different than that of their spicy cousins.
Roatan Pumpkin Habanero
Named for the island they were found on, which sits just off the coast of Honduras, these Caribbean chili peppers are a little meaner than your average jack-o-lantern.
Their deep orange color makes their pumpkin moniker a truthful one, but they can register as high as 500,000 on the Scoville scale, giving even the bravest foodies a good scare.
Still, what would sugar be without a little spice?