What are habanada peppers?
Have you ever wished you could enjoy that habanero pepper fruitiness without the intense heat? Enter the habanada. Developed at Cornell University by organic plant breeder Michael Mazourek, habanada peppers are a variety of heatless habanero peppers. That’s right this habanero-like chili is a nada on heat, and it’s spelled out right there in the name. This tropical sweetness is not common at the lower-end of the Scoville scale, making the habanada an excellent sweeter pepper to explore roasted in salsas, soups, salads, ice cream, and more. It’s also a joy to eat (or use) raw, making it an exceptional snacking pepper.
Table of Contents
- What are habanada peppers?
- Habanada fast facts
- How hot are habanada peppers?
- Where do these chilies originate?
- What do they look like?
- What do habanada peppers taste like?
- What are some good uses for this pepper?
- Where can you buy habanada peppers?
Habanada fast facts
|Scoville heat units (SHU)
|Median heat (SHU)
|Jalapeño reference point
|2,500 to 8,000 times milder
|2 to 3 inches long, elongated and tapering
|Sweet, Fruity, Floral
How hot are habanada peppers?
The easy answer is the habanada pepper has no heat, a zero on the Scoville scale. But there may be some wiggle room of a few minor Scoville heat units. Most of the time it’ll act just like a zero-heat sweet pepper, like a bell pepper or a gypsy. But it could act a little like a Tangerine Dream pepper (0 to 100 Scoville heat units), where random fruits have a very mild warmth.
Compare that to a common habanero pepper (100,000 to 350,000 SHU), and you can see why the habanada draws the attention it does. Habanero peppers are extra-hot chilies, ranging 12 to 140 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper (2,500 to 8,000 SHU.) The fact that the habanada, cuts out the heat completely while still maintaining a semblance of the habanero flavor, is a big deal.
There are other chilies that can claim similar tropical sweetness lower on the pepper scale. The aji dulce comes to mind, with a sweet, fruity fragrance very similar to a habanero. Though, it can carry some additional warmth, ranging from 0 to 1,000 Scoville heat units. That puts it on par with a poblano pepper at its high end. That mild, yet noticeable, heat may be of more interest to some than opting for a no-heat habanero-type.
Where do these chilies originate?
Michael Mazourek is an Associate Professor at Cornell University of the School of Integrative Plant Science. He developed the habanada pepper there (in part with a National Science Foundation grant), using natural breeding techniques. He crossed a common orange habanero with a no-heat pepper until getting the results he wanted, a no-heat pepper with plenty of tropical sweetness still present.
The habanada is what’s called stable in the plant world. Meaning, the seeds can be used from generation to generation and maintain the same qualities. It took 13 generations of the habanada to make it fully stable.
What do they look like?
You’d assume the habanada would closely resemble a habanero, but it’s not quite the case. They are elongated pods (2 to 4 inches in length), compared to the more bulbous habanero (1 to 3 inches long). The habanada has more of a tapering end than the habanero, which can get a slightly stinger-like tail.
What’s similar is the closeness of the orange coloring when mature (at least comparing the habanada to the common orange habanero) and the smooth, yet slightly wrinkly skin of the fruit itself.
What do habanada peppers taste like?
The habanada does walk the talk on its promised flavor: there’s a tropical-sweet fruitiness here, with floral undertones, that you just don’t find often in the mild to medium heat levels of the Scoville scale.
Now, is it exactly like the habanero in terms of flavor? Debatable. But that’s to be expected since this is a cross between a habanero pepper and something else entirely. There’s plenty of sweetness here (and it’s a delight to eat), but the habanero feels amped up (in heat and flavor) in comparison. Maybe that’s because the spiciness amplifies the natural sweetness, or maybe it’s due to the cross-breading making the fruitiness a bit muted. Either way, if you compare both side by side, different people will come to different conclusions here.
What are some good uses for this pepper?
Being zero-heat (or close enough to it), the habanada has many creative culinary uses.
First, the habanada is one of the better snacking peppers out there. The sweetness is unique for no-heat peppers, and it plays really well with creamy dips. Pair them with grassy raw jalapeño slices (if you like the medium-heat), and it’s a tasty yin-yang experience.
Habanadas roast very well. Roasting them on a grill, instead of your typical roasted bell peppers or poblanos, makes for a fun barbecue experience. And the sweetness of the pepper is enhanced with the cooking and the charring.
As for other uses, anywhere you’d use a bell pepper, you could sub in a habanada instead, as long as you think the tropical sweetness will work. It’s terrific raw as a sandwich pepper or sliced atop a salad. That said, these aren’t good stuffing peppers, so keep to your bells, poblanos, and jalapeños there.
Where can you buy habanada peppers?
Fresh, you may find habanada peppers at a local farmer’s market or pepper farm. Call around first to see. If you have a green thumb, habanada pepper seeds are widely available online. Though, note, the plant does take longer than many chilies to grow, so starting early in the season is recommended.
Habanada peppers are a no-heat habanero variety that still provide plenty of tropical sweetness to the table. It's a level of tropical-sweet not often found at the milder end of the pepper scale.