Cooking With Habanero Peppers: 5 Must-Follow Rules

Habanero peppers are growing fast in popularity. You can now often find them right across from jalapeño peppers on grocery store shelves. But handling a wickedly hot habanero is a totally different experience than handling a barely medium-heat jalapeño. If you don’t follow some simple rules when cooking with habanero peppers, you could be in for a world of unexpected pain. Here are our 5 must-follow rules to keep you happy and pain-free in the kitchen.

Wear food handling gloves when cooking with habanero peppers.

This is true, really, for handling any hot peppers, but especially those at the top end of the pepper scale. Their level of capsaicin, the compound behind chili peppers that acts as an irritant, is much higher than jalapeños. If you work with these chilies gloveless, it’s a guarantee that you’re in for a nasty case of chili burn, both on your fingers and anywhere you rub.

Be careful what you touch, even when wearing gloves.

The gloves are going to protect your fingers, but touching any part of your body with the gloves after you’ve handled habaneros can again lead to severe chili burn. Most especially – resist any urge to rub your eyes, even with what you think is a clean part of your gloved hand. Wait until you’ve removed your gloves and washed your hands thoroughly.

Know how to treat chili burn before you start cooking with habanero peppers.

Believe us, you don’t want to be scrambling for the antidote after the fact. The pain of chili burn can feel pretty severe, and the last thing you want to do is be scrambling for your mobile device to find the answer, contaminating everything with habanero oils in the process. Read our article on how to stop chili burn, it gives you lots of ways to stop the irritation. Spoiler: Milk is good to have at hand.

A little goes a long way. Don’t over-use.

This is a huge difference between mild and medium hot peppers and the hots and super-hots of the Scoville scale. In the world of the jalapeño, it’s common to use handfuls of these chilies to flavor a dish. You don’t need that in the world of the habanero. A single chili – in fact, even slivers of the chili – may be enough heat for your dish. The best plan is to underuse and then add to taste. Otherwise, the dish may be so scorching that it’s near impossible to eat except for extreme food lovers.

Know how to reduce habanero heat for when the spiciness is too much.

Much of the heat contained in chili peppers is found in the interior membrane, along with a lesser amount in the seeds. Sure the pepper’s skin and walls contain some as well, but not nearly as much as the pepper’s insides. If you’re finding that habanero peppers are just too much for you, clear out the interior of the pepper completely and cook with only the shell. You’ll still get the pepper’s delicious flavors, but a lot less of the pepper’s intensity.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on August 31, 2022 to include new content.
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