Mexican food is famously spicy.
In fact, it has been listed among the 12 spiciest cuisines in the world. But what gives Mexican food its world-famous levels of heat?
The answer, in many cases, comes down to one ingredient in particular; the habanero pepper.
Originally found in the Amazon rainforest, this pepper spread to Mexico many centuries ago, where it is now considered a staple part of Mexican cuisine.
Available in colors including orange, red, white, brown, yellow, green and even purple, a ripe habanero pepper is usually around 2-6 centimetres long and 1-2 inches in diameter.
The hottest pepper in Mexico, and in fact, one of the hottest peppers in the world, this chilli pepper can measure up to a whopping 350,000 on the Scoville scale. To put that into perspective, the jalapeno pepper, which many people consider to be rather hot, usually measures around 5,000 on the Scoville scale.
That’s 70 times cooler than the habanero pepper!
The sheer, tongue-melting heat of this pepper meant that in 1999, it was officially recognised as being the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, although it has since been displaced by other peppers, many of which are either derived from the habanero pepper, or have been specifically bred as cultivars by specialist chilli farmers.
Produced in the greatest quantity in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the habanero pepper is an integral part of much of the food of this region, although it is widely used across the rest of Mexico too, and grown in many other countries, such as Panama, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and parts of the United States.
Due to the Yucatan Peninsula’s unique soil composition, and its remorseless sun, habaneros grown in this area are considered to be vastly superior in both heat and flavour to those which are grown anywhere else.
Habanero peppers can also provide significant health benefits.
Firstly, they are full of Vitamin C; eating just 1 pepper will give you 100% of your recommended daily intake, while they contain only 18 calories and 0 grams of fat. The peppers also have high quantities of capsaicin, which is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Due to their remarkable heat and their enjoyably fruity flavour, the popularity of the habanero pepper in the US has increased substantially over time, and with the pepper’s renown only spreading further and further over time, combined with the rising interest in plant-based culinary options (one of which is the increasing popularity of vegan fine dining), it seems highly likely that usage of the habanero pepper will only become more and more common in the near future.
Lastly, among the chilli pepper family, habaneros are regarded as being one of the easier ones to grow, so if you’re a budding chilli farmer who’s looking grow their own plants, either to eat or just for fun, why not consider adding some habanero peppers to your crop?