The Blessing and Curse of Habanero


Among chileheads, the name of His Hotness has an almost mythical ring to it. After all, it is among this type of chilli that the most intense of aromas and the most super of hots can be found.

It suits our times only too well. Simple and loud statements, so easy to hear it’s reason to cry: People who develop a liking for pungency will soon enough hear of the habanero and its association with superhots.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen people prayer-like repeat “habanero” to themselves as they browse the spring plant sale, looking for “the hottest you’ve got.

Habanero have the great advantage of providing distinct and easily discernible aromas even underneath the obvious pungency, making it apparent what a misunderstanding it is to believe that chilli were about nothing but heat.

The problem, however, is that the logical shortcut still tends to go from “chilli = heat” to “habanero = yet more heat,” and it tempts all too many people into picking habanero when they want something hotter.

On the plant markets, when someone asks “What’s the hottest chilli you’ve got?,” it always makes be ask back, “What for?”

After all, chilli isn’t all the same.

Billa supermarket ad feat. Tabasco
Ad from Billa, one of Austria’s supermarket chains

Only because an habanero hot sauce tastes aromatic and intensely hot, it does not mean that an habanero sauce should be used to make food spicier.

Sure, if you just want to use it like ketchup, to splash something pungent onto your plate, nevermind what aromas come with it, go ahead.

But perhaps there’s a reason, not just related to the ease of cultivation, why something like 95% of chilli-kitchens around the world don’t use habanero, but other kinds of chilli.

Habanero, given its typical aromas, fits with mango or pineapple, can accompany a barbecue, but doesn’t work for many other things.

We are finally (just with a few years delay) getting Tabasco®-brand Habanero sauce into one of the common supermarket chains here in Austria.

For the proper uses, and to get to know an habanero sauce, it’s quite alright. What is really telling, however, is the advertising copy.

“Just a few drops give barbecue marinades and sauces a fruity-pungent pep.”

Oh yes, absolutely right there.

“No matter if Cajun cooking, Mexican, Caribbean, Asian or African – the TABASCO® Habanero Sauce will add real fire to the flavor.”

Say what?!?

Fire perhaps, but also flavor notes that are just plain wrong for most Mexican, African, let alone Asian recipes.

So, better to learn how and why to cook with the proper chilli for the proper recipe…

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