How Hot Is Hot?
Red Savina Habanero
Santa Fe Grande
Values are in
Habaneros are green in color and ripen one of numerous colors including red, orange, salmon, white, chocolate... depending on the variety. Their average size is 1 to 2 1/2 inches long, 1 to 2 inches in diameter and they are lantern-shaped, round or oblong. Technically, their species name is Capsicum Chinense Jacquin. Habaneros are the hottest chile peppers and rate around 200,000 - 300,000 Scoville Units.
Habanero means from Havana and is an extremely hot pepper believed to originally have been taken to the Yucatan Peninsula from Cuba. About 1,500 tons of habaneros are harvested each year in the Yucatan. They are also grown to a lesser extent in Belize, Costa Rica, Texas and California.
GNS Spices of Southern California has developed the Red Savina habanero which has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's hottest spice up to 580,000 scoville units! Red Savina Habaneros are the hottest peppers there are!
The habanero is not the same pepper as the Scotch Bonnet They are of the same species but the Scotch Bonnet is not a Cultivar. The Scotch Bonnet has a different shape - one which closely resembles a Scot's bonnet - so it is very easy to differentiate the two. The Scotch Bonnet grows mainly in the Caribbean islands while the habanero grows mainly in Latin and North American. The flavor of the two, however, is very similar as is their heat level.
Scoville units are the units used to rate the heat of peppers. The Scoville unit was named after Wilbur L. Scoville who first tried to measure the heat of peppers in 1912. Wilbur was a pharmacologist for the Parke-Davis Company.
His original test consisted of a panel of tasters who would systematically taste a solution of chile extract and slightly sweetened water for detectable heat. They tried to determine how much the chile extract needed to be diluted before it no longer had a detectable heat sensation.
A typical Jalapeno pepper is about 4,500 Scoville units. This means that 4,500 parts of sugar water are required to dilute one part Jalapeno extract until its heat can no longer be felt. Dilute it any further and you would not be able to taste any hotness.
As you can imagine, this testing method was highly subjective and is no longer used. However, chile heat is still given in Scoville units. Today, high-pressure liquid chromatography machines measure a pepper's heat. Although this method takes out the guess work, it only rates the heat of the sample pepper being tested, and not the absolute fire power of every chile in that variety. Climate, soil, weather, geography and harvest time all affect how hot a pepper can be.
A cultivar is an organism or hybrid that originated and has persisted under cultivation. The word comes from cultivated variety and is abbreviated as cv. Each cultivar must be named in conformance with the International Code of Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants and that name comes after its scientific name, regulated be the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (i.e. Capsicum frutescens cv. 'Tabasco') Got all that?
One of the several organic nitrogen compounds in a pungent lipid group called capsaicinoids. These compounds are concentrated in the placenta of the pepper (blister like sacs along the pepper's inner wall) to which the seeds are attached. A smaller amount is found in the veins or white lines running from the top of the pepper to the bottom. The seeds contain only a small portion of capsaicin. So, contrary to popular belief, the seeds are not the hottest part.
A group of chemicals called CAPSAICINOIDS are responsible for the heat in chile peppers. Each one produces a slightly different burn. The hottest and most famous of the five is called capsaicin. This is one that produces the sensation of fire in your mouth. When the fire hits, your mouth sends a signal to your brain that signals the release of natural pain relievers, endorphins, which we all love. The amount of capsaicin in a hot pepper is expressed in Scoville Units.
Most of the habanero extracts are so hot and potentially dangerous that they are not meant for direct consumption and are meant to be used as a food additive only. This means you are supposed to add a few drops to your cooking and not supposed to use them directly like on a chip. The companies that sell them make you sign a written waiver saying you understand this and you will not give the extract to anyone else without warning them. This limits the company's liability and provides for the consumer's safety.
Many sauces are so hot that in order to limit the company's liability, and to provide for the consumer's safety, they come with warning labels. These products have warnings on their bottles and also come with special handling instructions in their shipping containers.
A typical label enclosed with an order of Dave's Insanity Sauce from MoHotta-MoBetta reads: WARNING: You must exercise extreme caution when using this sauce. If you touch the sauce, be particularly careful not to touch your face, eyes or other sensitive parts of your body. If you do touch the sauce, we recommend that you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Ignore this warning and you will pay. Hmmm, sensitive body parts??