The habanero (Spanish pronunciation:) is a variety of chili pepper. When used in English, it is sometimes spelled (and pronounced) habañero, the tilde being added as a hyperforeignism. Unripe habaneros are green, and they color as they mature. Common colors are orange and red, but white, brown, and pink are also seen. Typically, a ripe habanero chili is 2–6 cm (0.8–2.4 in) long. Habanero chilis are very hot, rated 100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale.
The habanero chili comes from the Amazonas region, and from there it was spread through Mexico. One domesticated habanero, which was dated at 8,500 years old, was found at an archaeological dig in Peru. An intact fruit of a small domesticated habanero, found in pre-ceramic levels in Guitarrero Cave in the Peruvian highlands, was dated to 6500 BC.
The habanero was carried north to the Caribbean via Colombia. Upon its discovery by Spaniards, the habanero chili was rapidly disseminated to other adequate climate areas of the world, to the point that 18th-century taxonomists mistook China for its place of origin and called it “Capsicum chinense” (“the Chinese pepper”).
Today, the largest producer is Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Habaneros are an integral part of Yucatecan food. Habanero chilies accompany most dishes in Yucatan, either in solid or purée/salsa form. Other modern producers include Belize, Panama (locally named ají chombo), Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and parts of the United States, including Texas, Idaho, and California. While Mexico is the largest consumer of this spicy ingredient, its flavor and aroma have become increasingly popular all over the world.
The Scotch bonnet is often compared to the habanero, since they are two varieties of the same species, but have different pod types. Both the Scotch bonnet and the habanero have thin, waxy flesh. They have a similar heat level and flavor. Although both varieties average around the same level of “heat”, the actual degree of piquancy varies greatly from one fruit to another with genetics, growing methods, climate, and plant stress.
The habanero’s heat, its fruity, citrus-like flavor, and its floral aroma have made it a popular ingredient in hot sauces and spicy foods.
In 1999, the habanero was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chili, but it has since been displaced by a number of other peppers, the record tending to change every few years.