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Are "they" dumbing down habanero peppers?

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Jalapeno's used to be plenty hot, but there was a concerted push to dumb them down so that they became a more tame, and thus more widely used ingredient.

I just put an entire habanero in a quesadilla and barely got any burn. It was disappointing.

So, the non-burning question; are they dumbing down habaneros now too?

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  1. good question. I made some salsa the other day with a lot of serranos and I didn't get ANY heat from them. Aren't they spicier than jalapenos? Tasted more like a poblano

    1. Sadly it may be true. Fresh and canned jalapenos and serranos here in chile intensive SoCal have been getting noticeably milder over the last few years (dammit). By far the worst canned/jarred ones come from Peru for unknown reasons.
      I'd still treat habaneros with a lot of respect :-). Chile manzanos are supposed to be almost as picante but I haven't tried them yet.

      OTOH I really hurt myself carelessly preparing a large batch of dried chile de arbol recently. I now put my trust in *liquid* hand soap.

      1 Reply
      1. re: DiveFan

        Mexican peppers grown in Peru for export would be tailored to the tastes of the export market. Look for rocotos if you want a hot Peruvian pepper.
        paulj

      2. I wouldn't be at all surprised, but since it was a single pepper you may have found that one that just wasn't hot.
        Pepper heat can vary wildly from batch to batch, and sometimes even on the same plant.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hannaone

          Ate another one on some eggs this morning. Same deal, pretty mild. This time I used an entire pepper and barely got enough heat to notice.

          I may have to start growing my own.

        2. I certainly hope not. If you do find that habanero's are going mild look for their fiery cousin's-- scotch bonnets. And if you find them, be careful!

          1. Texas A&M University has been researching and hybridizing breeds of chilis since the 70's at least. Their main thrust is to serve the growers/producers to the food industry by developing plants with increased yield, higher disease resistence, and lower Scoville ratings.

            Why the dumb-down? Not everyone can take the incredible heat of peppers, but they sure want to keep up with their friends and brag about eating the fiery stuff.. So now the giant producers can create a salsa or sauce and label it Habanero but appeal to a much broader target market.

            Which points out the necessity of supporting small local growers who are small enough to respond to what you ask for. They will keep growing the heirlooms and create a demand for the seed. Truely a case of Use or Lose it, seed-wise.

            http://agnewsarchive.tamu.edu/dailyne...

            See you at the Farmer's Market!

            1 Reply
            1. re: toodie jane

              I think Texas A&M and the rest of the food service 'front end' would put more emphasis on 'niche' marketing of products.
              The demographic that likes spicy chiles has grown tremendously in proportion to the rest of the population, yet we can't get the 'dee-de-dee' distribution chain to move more and spicier fresh NM chiles to the West Coast; meanwhile store bins are overflowing with dried, probably ancient, chiles that probably came from the same place.
              This situation reminds me of the growers of the Capay Valley in California who keep planting 'pizza' olive trees and complain about low market prices.

            2. There's no way of knowing what type of habanero you bought. Just a quick check of the Dave's Garden website showed 2,605 different named habanero peppers. (Davesgarden is site for gardeners like chowhound is for food people.) There are likely others not on this list as well so Lord only knows how many there are out there. And they will all differ in the amount of heat that they deliver. http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/sear...
              I have no idea which variety the commercial growers use or what you find in your local market..
              Even the same pepper variety will vary depending on growing conditions. They really like hot, dry conditions and some of them prefer poor soil. Mine were happy, happy this year and last year and were very hot - hotter than they are in years when we've gotten a lot of rain and cooler nights.

              You could also be so used to the heat now they they don't affect you as much. You may want to try experimenting with peppers for their flavors instead of just the burn. Opens up a whole new world.

              5 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                I do use them for flavor, but part of the trick of using peppers for flavor is knowing how to balance heat and in what quanitity to use. In being able to do that, it helps when the product has consistancy so that you don't under, or for that matter, over use the item.

                Balance is the key.

                1. re: holy chow

                  Therein lies the problem. Food is not an industrial product so you can never count on it to be consistent. Every ingredient will vary, but sometimes it makes more difference than in other situations. The best bakers will even weigh ingredients.
                  Agricultural products like peppers will vary due to growing conditions and peppers from the same plant will be hotter or milder at different times during the growing season. If you can't grow your own, find a source you like and buy from that source consistently. Even then you'll have to taste as you go.
                  Cooking is an art with a bit of science thrown in.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    While I agree in theory, however, when a product changes characteristic so much from what is considered normal (ie huge drops in scoville units or flavor profiles) then is it really the same product, and should you really expect the change if it was still sold under the same name as the orig product with specific characteristics (scoville units are specific and scientific and very much a characteristic of a type of pepper)?

                    Do a search on scoville units and habanero, the defination is very specific, just like a confit is very specific, as is a vanilla bean as is grapefruit.

                    If you were to buy vanilla and it tasted like chocolate, would you still use it the same? I doubt it and I bet surely you'd be blindsided by the change unless you taste all of your ingredients each and every time before going to cook. Which, if you do, good on you but that isn't cooking, that is obsessing.

                    Thank you for explaining what you believe cooking is...

                    Back to the regularly scheduled question.

                    1. re: holy chow

                      When it comes to any fresh vegetable/fruit/produce, tasting before use is always a good idea. I also taste most dried ingredients before use due to the sometimes very different tastes of different batches.
                      So many things in nature can affect the taste of what is grown.
                      When I was in Korea I would often see older Korean women nibbling their way through the produce. I asked my mother in law about this and she said that was the only way to shop. Taste first then buy xx amount of what you need based on that.

                      1. re: holy chow

                        OK, so I did a cursory search on google as you suggested and found that, contrary to what you claim, there is a wide variation given for the "heat" of habaneros measured in scoville units. I imagine that this is accounted for by the variations among cultivars.
                        Does this really matter? Just use more habaneros if you need more heat.

                        This isn't the same thing at all as a ingredient which tastes different. I can't buy "thyme" and then use it in a recipe only to find that it is "lemon thyme" or an ornamental variety, when I wanted French thyme for my dish. There are many varieties of mint that are NOT going into MY mint julep. Period. Thai basil isn't the same as Italian. Even if it's the proper variety, some are stronger than others depending on when, how and where they're grown.
                        Damn right I'll taste them, just as you should be tasting your peppers.
                        This isn't obsessing. It's knowing my ingredients.

                        FYI: Genetically, a habanero could be bred to have as little heat as a bell pepper and still be a habanero, just as they are now breeding them to far exceed the normal "heat." Scoville units have nothing to do with the botanic definition. For an explanation of that, you'll have to look beyond Chowhound, which is confined to discussions of food.

                2. Maybe you're just getting smarter?

                  Or, as MakingSense put it, maybe you're just getting more attuned to the heat of the peppers.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I think there's something to your "getting smarter" idea. Anytime something gets popular or trendy, producers have to begin providing a lot more of it to consumers who demand it.
                    The average consumer is not as likely to be familiar with the standards of quality for that particular item so a lot of stuff can be "passed off" but most people are just as pleased to simply have the trendy item. Sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, brie, granola, etc. All sorts of products that were wonderful soon have lower quality versions being offered for sale at lower prices.
                    Hot peppers became very popular and then they were everywhere. Not all of them were of good quality or even hot. They were on fast food menus and barely as spicy as baby food but people are happy to be eating trendy hot peppers.
                    Makes you hate trendy stuff, doesn't it?

                  2. When buying habaneros, use the rule of thumb: Scrape a bit off with your thumbnail and taste. If it's hot, assume the rest in the bin are.

                    1. I have grown my own for years because its fun, not because I thought the market variety was wimped out.

                      But I do have to say that the ones I grow are very hot. Much hotter than at the market. Too hot to eat straight. In fact they gave me a huge blister on my lip when I tried that.

                      My bushes have been totally out of control this year and I have 200 or so inthe freezer, more on the plants, and still they are flowering.

                      1. Most chiles sold in the U.S. are grown in Mexico. In the old days the export market was small... so Mexican producers weren't considering U.S. consumers at all. In Mexico... variability of heat level is accepted and relished... however... U.S. consumers value consistency.. and have become a sizeable market.... I would not be surprised if Mexican producers are tweaking chiles destined for export.

                        I will find the relevant Chamber of Commerce in Mexico and pose the question. Stay tuned.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          Here is a link to Mexico's Council for Chile Production: http://www.conaproch.org/

                          In this document (almost the last page) there is a table that indicates the acceptable characteristics of each Chile variety (including Scoville units). Its possible that Mexican producers started abiding by the International Norms after entering NAFTA... I posed the question in an e-mail (you can find the contact info by clicking on "CONTACTO":

                          http://www.conaproch.org/documentos/n...

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            very interesting reading- thanks for the resource.

                          2. re: Eat_Nopal

                            eatnopal, are you talking about fresh, dried, or both? an awful lot of chilis being grown in north Santa Barabara Co., and in south Monterey Co. Calif.

                            1. re: toodie jane

                              Fresh, Dried, Canned you name it.... California also grows a whole lot of avocados but Michoacan still produces about 2/3 of the world's supply.

                          3. maybe you just burned out your palate?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: tuqueboy

                              That is a myth.... there is no heat in chiles. What you feel are your taste buds tingling rapidly.... I don't see how a palate can be burned out. If anything... taste experts suggest that capsicum makes taste buds more receptive.

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                No myth. I've shortcircuited my tastebuds twice. Once by eating too many Atomic Fireballs and once from a habanero salsa macho. I've blacked out on the details, but once some sweet things tasted salty. Both these spells lasted for weeks. I assume I damaged some nerve endings and eventually they grew back.

                                Now I draw the line at serranos, which I can eat like candy, and restrict my Atomic Fireball consumption.

                                1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                  From the blogs, on numbing of nerves
                                  http://www.chow.com/grinder/4116

                            2. Don't you love it when you ask a straight forward question and "chowhounders" use it as an excuse to lecture?

                              The answer to you original question is yes.

                              http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/21/nat...

                              Some Like It Hot, but a New Pepper Is Bred for the Rest
                              By RALPH BLUMENTHAL

                              ESLACO, Tex., Nov. 18 - It's a burning issue for some hot-pepper lovers: Whatever possessed Kevin M. Crosby to create the mild habanero?

                              For Dr. Crosby, a plant geneticist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Experiment Station here near the Mexican border, the answer is simple: "I'm not going to take away the regular habanero. You can still grow and eat that, if you want to kill yourself."

                              But for those who prize the fieriest domesticated Capsicum for its taste and health-boosting qualities, Dr. Crosby and the research station in the Rio Grande Valley have developed and patented the TAM Mild Habanero, with less than half the bite of the familiar jalapeño (which A&M scientists also previously produced in a milder version).

                              With worldwide pepper consumption on the rise, according to industry experts, the new variety - a heart-shaped nugget bred in benign golden yellow to distinguish it from the alarming orange original, the common Yucatan habanero - is beginning to reach store shelves, to the delight of processors and the research station, which stands to earn unspecified royalties if the new pepper catches on.

                              "I love it," said Josh Ruiz, a local farmer whose pickers this week filled some 200 boxes of the peppers to be sold to grocers for about $35 a box. "It yields good and I'm able to eat it." As for the Yucatan habanero, he said, "My stomach just can't take it."

                              By comparison, if a regular jalapeño scores between 5,000 and 10,000 units on the Scoville scale of pepper hotness based on the amount of the chemical capsaicin (cap-SAY-sin), and a regular habanero averages around 300,000 to 400,000 units, A&M's mild version registers a tepid 2,300, or barely one-hundredth of its coolest formidable namesake. A bell pepper, by the way, scores zero.

                              Not everyone hails the breakthrough. Dr. Crosby, 33, a native Texan and a distant relative of the crooner Bing, said "chili pepper fanatics" have called with rude questions about what he was thinking and why he was wasting his time. A Mexican voiced complete bewilderment. Why, he asked Dr. Crosby, would you want a habanero that's not hot?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: desantmj

                                Do these milder habaneros have similar taste (fruitiness etc), minus the heat, to the hot ones? I've never consumed regular habaneros in a large enough quantity to taste anything but the heat.

                                paulj

                              2. "They" are not breeding habaneros for lower heat. "They" are, however, breeding different chiles of different heat, taste, and agronomic characteristics. Expressed heat in a particular variety depends to some degree on soil, temperature, water, and fertilizer. My guess is that producers are after greater and quicker yields, meaning conditions more suited to high output and less development of the capsaicins.

                                1. For this very reason I grow my own. Something an old Texan told me about peppers. He said that when one pepper on a bush goes hot, they all do. Thank you Sam Shaw.

                                  1. Lets put this back on track...

                                    > As I posted below... there are international norms on popular chile varieties. I don't think you can (legally... although I have not checked if the USDA subscribes to the international norm) sell a chile as an Habanero if its characteristics are outside the norms.

                                    > It looks like someone has bred dud Habeneros to be sold as a branded varietal. I don't think the OP would have purchased one of those without knowing it was "special"

                                    a) Was the OP expecting a 250,000 scoville habanero... and got a 100,000 scoville instead and thought it was a relative dud?

                                    b) Could an habanero plant randomly mutate to have no heat?

                                    c) Did the habanero somehow breed with the Yucatan's fairly common Chile Dulce... to produce a mildish habanero that still looks like an Habanero?

                                    I really doubt that habaneros have been secretly dumbed down (substantially). I wouldn't be surprised if producers were targeting the low end of the scoville scale as indicated by the international norms.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      It wouldn't surprise me in the least that habaneros are being bred to be milder, just as corn has been bred to be sweeter. Habanero is now a brand name (read hotter and better and mas macho than Jalapeno). Never underestimate the greed and duplicity of corporate America.

                                      1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                        That's a curious observation, considering that Havana (Habanero - from H...) is about as isolated from corporate America as is possible. Do you know what company owns the brand name?
                                        paulj

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          I don't mean that it is literally a brand name. I mean that some food companies are "branding/advertising" their products as habanero flavored. Habanero has now entered the lexicon as a way to sell product to people who want more of a kick (but not too much more) than those wimpy jalapenos.

                                      2. re: Eat_Nopal

                                        There are those currently breeding extremely hot habaneros well above the level of the scoville units commonly found. Breeding with less heat is also possible. Why should this be any less acceptable except that chili-heads don't like it?

                                        This is not a matter of "international norms." Plants have genetic markers (DNA) like other living things that identify them - just as you see on CSI - and a habanero pepper would have a different set than another type of pepper. Different cultivars of habaneros would still have the same markers, just as different colored Labrador Retrievers (black, yellow, brown) are still Labs. These genetic markers don't have anything to do with measurements of scoville units, other than being a "heat gene" perhaps, and that is what a botanist would try to change by breeding.

                                        A pepper could randomly mutate to have no heat just as there could be an albino Labrador Retriever. It would also be possible to breed a habanero with more or less heat, just as it would be possible to breed a spotted Lab. The point of selective breeding is to obtain specific desired characteristics.

                                        The Habanero is not "branded" and no one owns the trademark for the type of pepper. There may be some hybrid varieties which are patented. If someone develops a marketable habanero-light, they might well patent the seed and trademark a name under which they will sell the mild peppers at retail. As long as the pepper has the same genetic markers as other habaneros, it's a habanero.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          Again, all I'm saying is that some food producers are branding their products as Habanero (and including it as an ingredient) as a marketing ploy. It worked on me with the Habanero Doritos. I tried them, I liked them, I had heartburn for 6 weeks. Those little Thai Bird's Beak chilis are about as hot as I go. They don't phase me at all. Habanero's scare me and should from past experience.

                                          1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                            When my son vacationed in Belize he brought back a souvenir box of Marie Sharp's sauces. All had ingredients like habaneros and carrots. But the proportions vary so one is mild, and on up. Actually the hottest 'Belize Heat' also has 'capsium oil' as well. Since I already have an unused bottle of Daves Insantity, I haven't even opened this 'heat' bottle.

                                            paulj

                                            1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                              That's a pretty loose use of the concept of "branding." As paulj asks, "Do you know what company owns the brand name?"
                                              Nobody owns "habanero" so the food marketers will dilute it to amateur strength for the mass market and everybody will use it for awhile until they move on to the next new trendy thing.

                                              You are correct that it's a marketing ploy. The same one that consumers fall prey to every time something becomes trendy and gets bastardized. We've been through Cajun everything, chipotle sauces on fast food burgers, crème brulée CoffeeMate, tiramisu cookies, alfredo salad dressings, organic and all natural junk food, chinese food wraps, philly cheesesteak pizzas, whole grain chocolate chip cookies, bacon chocolate bars, chicken carbonara sandwiches, bruschetta chicken, mexican sushi, and anything else somebody can stick a trendy name on to sell a new product.

                                              All most people know is that habaneros are macho cool and really hot. Doritos are a brand that they trust. It's football season. Bingo. Sale made. Are you going to tell the guys you can't take the heat?

                                            2. re: MakingSense

                                              Read desantmj's post again... a guy in Texas has patented the TAM Mild Habanero and is licensing it. You might also want to read up on the role of international norms and how government agencies rely on them to regulate their commerce.

                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                As I said above, "There may be some hybrid varieties which are patented. If someone develops a marketable habanero-light, they might well patent the seed and trademark a name under which they will sell the mild peppers at retail." This would include the right to license a pepper such as the TAM Mild Habanero.
                                                I am familiar with international trade regulations. Technical definitions of specific agricultural commodities are used in the application of import regulations, tariffs and trade agreements. Fortunately, they are not Goldilocks "norms" such as Too Hot, Too Mild or a subjective Just Right. If they were, there would be no end to the disputes between trading partners.

                                              2. re: MakingSense

                                                Genetic markers refer to selected gene segments along the whole geneome of, say, a chile, that allow comparison. The genes for heat, however, are at specific loci.

                                                Again, chiles are not being bred down. Other varieties are being developed with different chacteristics. And, again, environmental factors (water, temperature, soil nutrients, sunlight, daylength) all influence plant growth and chile consumer characteristics.