Red Savina Habanero Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are Red Savina habanero peppers?

Red Savina habanero peppers are one of the hottest chili peppers in the world, with a Scoville heat rating ranging from 350,000 to 570,000 Scoville heat units. From 1994 to 2006, it officially held the title of the hottest pepper in the world through the Guinness Book of World Records, but much more extreme super-hot chilies have since overshadowed it. Red Savina habaneros are a bright, fire-engine red color and have a fruity, citrusy flavor. They are often used in hot sauces and salsa.

red savina habanero
Red Savina habanero peppers

Red Savina habanero fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)350,000 – 577,000
Median heat (SHU)463,500
Jalapeño reference point44 to 231 times hotter
Capsicum speciesChinense
OriginUnited States
SizeApproximately 2 inches long, wrinkled
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Citrusy

How hot are Red Savina habanero peppers?

They are extremely hot, ranking among the super-hot range of the Scoville scale. Though these days, the Red Savina falls short of being listed among the absolute hottest peppers in the world. It did hold the Guinness Book of World Records title from 1994 to 2006 as the world’s hottest pepper, until the Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) came around and easily doubled its heat. And today, the hottest chilies (like the Carolina Reaper) reach closer to 2,000,000 SHU at their heights.

–> Learn More: Discover The Hottest Peppers In The World

But this is still no chili pepper to be trifled with. Red Savina habaneros range from 350,000 to 577,000 Scoville heat units (SHU.) Compare that to scotch bonnet peppers and the common orange habanero (both 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.) The Red Savina habanero starts where the common hab and scotch bonnets stop. It can be equal heat to up to six times hotter, when comparing the mildest common habanero or scotch bonnet to the hottest Red Savina.

Let’s also compare the Red Savina to our reference point: the jalapeño. Here, it’s not even close. Jalapeños are a very eatable medium heat (2,500 to 8,000 SHU), making the Red Savina 44 to 231 times hotter.

The short of it: Even those who are used to habaneros may find the Red Savina spicier than they can handle.

How was this unique chili pepper discovered?

This chili has one of the more interesting modern cultivation legends surrounding it. It all started in Walnut, California with a gentleman named Frank Garcia and his company GNS Spices. He and a few friends saw an opportunity to bring domestically grown habaneros cheaply into the North American market.

After a botched first deal where the buyer withdrew his proposed buying price, Frank and his team decided to plow over most of the crop instead of setting their price precedent at too low of a rate.

While plowing, Frank noticed one strange red pepper among a field of typical orange habaneros. He picked this mutant pepper instead of plowing it. He forgot about it for a time but then decided to start selective breeding with the seeds of this mystery red habanero to create a unique product for the market.

Upon heat testing (using high-performance liquid chromatography), a pepper from this strain topped out at a whopping 577,000 Scoville heat units. That set the world record and launched this pepper into infamy. In fact, until 2011, the Red Savina was one of the only vegetables to be officially protected by the U.S. government under the Plant Variety Protection Act.

What do Red Savina habaneros taste like?

It’s quite like the common habanero or scotch bonnet in terms of flavor. The Red Savina has a sweetness to it, with a fruity and citrusy undertone, sort of like apricot in flavor.

The big difference, of course, is the more extreme spiciness you get with the Red Savina, so for those looking for habanero flavor with a bigger heat, the Red Savina is a perfect next-step candidate.

What do they look like?

The Red Savina chili is similar to the shape of common habaneros, roughly two inches long and pod-like. But the Red Savina can take on more of a bulbous “Chinese lantern” type of shape. They age from green to the rich red color that’s their claim to fame.

Growing Red Savina habaneros

Red Savina chilies are still habaneros when all is said and done, so you’d approach growing Red Savina habaneros similarly to how you’d grow common orange habaneros.

–> See our habanero planting guide to learn more.

Cooking with Red Savinas

Again, these chilies are habaneros, with a similar overall flavor but a ton more heat. So you can use them similarly to how you would a common orange habanero (or any other habanero type, like the Caribbean red.) Salsas and hot sauces will be the most common use here. But they can also be used in everyday cooking where common habaneros are used.

But as this is a more extreme chili, it’s best to keep the below in mind when using them:

  • Use gloves when handling and kitchen goggles (highly recommended). The capsaicin in the Red Savina (the compound that creates the heat sensation in chilies) is even more than that of the common habanero, so the chance for extreme chili burn is much more likely when handled without protection. Kitchen gloves are the minimum level of protection, and we also recommend (with any super-hot pepper) wearing kitchen goggles to protect your eyes.
  • Know how to treat chili burn before handling it. If things do go wrong when you’re using Red Savina habaneros, the last thing you want to do is search for the remedy for chili burn. Learn how to combat it beforehand.
  • The white membrane (pith) is where most of the capsaicin is, so remove it to lessen the overall heat. There is, of course, capsaicin in the skin, meat, and seeds, but it’s not nearly as much as what’s in the white membrane. Handle that area of the chili with extreme care. And remove it before cooking with Red Savina chilies if you want to lessen the spiciness.

What chilies make good Red Savina substitute?

The most obvious alternative is any other habanero pepper. As long as that habanero is not labelled “chocolate” or “brown”, they will more thank likely have a similar sweet-citrusy flavor, but without the heat. Chocolate habaneros have earthy undertones which may not work in every case as a Red Savina substitute.

Of course, you’re sacrificing some heat here. If you’d prefer to go up the Scoville scale, try the ghost pepper as an alternative. Ghost peppers have a sweet, fruity flavor and they tip the scale from 800,000 to 1 million SHU. That’s a significant step up, but not as hot as scorpion peppers or the Carolina Reaper (all easily over 1 million SHU.)

–> See our hot pepper list for more alternatives, over 150 chilies profiled.

Where can I buy Red Savina habaneros?

This is one popular hot pepper, but not one that you’ll typically find at a local grocer. It simply tips the charts as too hot for the masses in raw form. You may discover it at specialty grocers (call around first), but your better option may be to buy Red Savina habaneros online.

On the web, you’ll find Red Savina seeds and plants and many Red Savina hot sauces and powders, among other products. The hot sauces are a great way to experience the power of this chili without having to deal with the pepper in raw form. And the ground chili will let you layer this heat into nearly any dish you make.

The Red Savina habanero has a back story that’s made it into a chilihead legend, and it has the heat to back it all up. If you’re thinking about moving into the realm of super-hot peppers, take a stop off at this chili first. It’s at the lower end of the scorching hot area of the pepper scale, so it’ll help prepare you for the ghost, scorpion, and reaper peppers that lay beyond.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on November 28, 2022 to include new content.
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honestly, I find that not too hot because I also eat Bhut Jolokia but the red Savina had protection until 2011 when it went off the list