Habanero is the hottest pepper known and the one preferred by “pepper pyromaniacs”.
The habanero and the Scotch Bonnet
are closely related and identical in looks.
Also known as the King of the Yucatán, it is short, no wider than two inches, and lantern-shaped with orange, red, yellow, or green coloured pods and the dangerous misleading aroma of tropical fruit.
It may have originated in Cuba as its name suggests (Havana), but the Maya claim it as their own. To this day, the Maya occupy all of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula extending through Chiapas and into Belize and Guatemala to northern Honduras and El Salvador.
The heat of these peppers never goes below 80,000 Scoville units and can reach as high as 577,000 units. However, most people cannot get past the heat index to taste its exquisite flavour.
The habanero is different from other chiles in that, although they are extremely hot, they do not irritate the stomach like other hot chiles.
The habanero is so rare that it can cost 200 pesos for fewer than half a dozen peppers. Because it is so expensive, most everyone has her own little plant growing in the house or garden.
The Maya’s obssession with just one pepper, the habanero, is unparalleled in pepper eating.
When we were living in Chiapas, Mexico several years ago, locals related one story to us.
A head chef in a restaurant in Cancún had to continually keep an eye on his Mayan kitchen workers. Very familiar with the habanero, they are an asset in its preparation and cooking. However, they can also be a liability.
These gentle Maya sometimes forget that not all people are as used to the fiery pepper as they are and must continually be reminded to tone it down when cooking for tourists.
Once in a while, they forget; and the inevitable happens.
One evening, the workers spotted a group of diners and became elated at the rare sight of fellow Maya eating in such an upscale restaurant. Few attain such wealth, so they were going to outdo themselves in the meal’s preparation.
After a minor commotion broke out among the diners, the head chef investigated and found that these diners were not Maya after all, but rather Japanese tourists who inadvertently received a “warm” welcome to the Yucatán peninsula.