Habaneros are lantern-shaped chile peppers with a subtle apricot-like aroma and extremely hot flavor. Growing to no more than two inches in length, their color ranges from light green when fresh to bright orange when ripe.
Habaneros are native to the Caribbean, the Yucatan and the north coast of South America. But in recent years, they've become a trendy ingredient in sophisticated kitchens around the world. Fresh or dried, they're most commonly used in fiery seasonings, sauces and dressings.
When buying fresh, choose habaneros that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skins should be smooth and glossy. Dried habaneros should have a rich, consistent color, unbroken skin and slight flexibility. Don't buy any with blemishes or soft spots.
Store fresh habanero peppers in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Keep dried chiles in an airtight container away from light and heat for up to six months.
Habaneros are one of the hottest varieties of peppers, so use extra caution when preparing them. Up to 80% of a chile pepper's capsaicin (the potent compound that gives peppers their heat) is found in the seeds and membranes. Wear thin rubber gloves and avoid touching your face and eyes. If you don't have gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as you're finished. If you still feel a burning sensation on your skin, try soaking hands in a bowl of milk.
Wash the peppers right before using. To slice, begin by removing the stem and cutting the pepper in half. Next, use a teaspoon to carefully remove the ribs and seeds (this will temper the chile's heat). Slice as desired.
- When cooking hot peppers on the stovetop, avoid breathing the fumes as they may irritate your throat, nose and eyes.
- To rehydrate dried chiles, cover with very hot water and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Purée rehydrated chiles with a little water and add to sauces and stews for rich, fiery flavor.
- Can't take the heat? Drink or eat a capsaicin-absorbing food to temper the intensity. These include milk, tomato juice, bread, potatoes, rice, ice cream or bananas. Don't drink alcohol or water—they'll only increase capsaicin absorption and spread it to more parts of your mouth.
Try one of our favorite habanero recipes:
Belizian Style Habanero Hot Sauce