Habanero pepper, the habanero is a family of chili peppers of Cuban origin, as you can guess from the name that derives from the capital of Cuba, Havana. Despite their origin, they are considered typical Mexican peppers, as the cultivar has spread to the Yucatan. Today it is one of the most cultivated varieties of hot peppers in the world and we find it grown everywhere, from Texas to Italy.
Growing habanero peppers in Italy is possible and can prove to be a source of great satisfaction. We will find out how to do it in the best way, with the various tricks from sowing to harvesting.
Among the various types of chili, habanero is easily recognized by its lantern-shaped fruit, which is originally orange but takes on different colors based on the variety. In fact, under the name of habanero, we find a series of cultivars belonging to the Capsicum Chinese species, including the fearsome habanero red Savina which, with a spiciness score of over 500,000 Scoville points, held the world record for spiciness until 2007.
Characteristics of the plant
The habanero plant belongs to the capsicum Chinese family, it is a perennial species that for climatic reasons is generally managed as an annual. From sowing it takes about 120 days to bear fruit, we can therefore say that it has a rather long cycle, even compared to other varieties of chilli.
It forms an erect shrub with a resistant stem, which does not need support except for a windy exposure of the soil. It spreads quite wide on the sides and reaches about 90 cm in height.
It has beautiful oval leaves and fruits around 4 cm in length, with a characteristic lantern shape. The size and shape of the chili pepper can vary depending on the cultivar, as well as the color of the peel which ranges in many colors: yellow, orange, red, purple, brown.
Habanero peppers and Scoville scale
The spiciness of a pepper depends on the capsaicin content in the fruit and is measured according to the Scoville scale in SHU (Scoville Heat Units). It is not possible to indicate a valid SHU score for all habaneros, because there are many different cultivars. The Scoville score also for the single cultivar represents an approximation, since the spiciness also depends on cultivation factors and can vary from fruit to fruit.
Habanero cultivars are generally quite spicy, on average around 200,000 SHU, up to over 500,000 for red Savina. The organoleptic characteristics vary greatly from cultivar to cultivar, although habanero is generally considered a chilli pepper with an excellent fruity taste, which is enhanced rather than covered by the high spiciness. Precisely this together with the fairly fleshy pulp makes it renowned all over the world and suitable for both drying and fresh use.
How habaneros are grown
If we want to grow habanero peppers in Italy we must take into account that we are still talking about a plant that originates between Cuba and Mexico, in completely different climates from ours. So there are some important things that can help us succeed in cultivation. Starting with the right sowing period.
The choice of land
Hot peppers need a rather loose and draining soil, even if fertile and rich in organic matter. The ideal would therefore be to have a fairly sandy soil, enriched with good fertilization based on compost and mature manure. With the right spade and correct contributions, we can grow chilies in any garden and even do it in pots.
What is essential is solar exposure, habaneros need many hours of light and cannot be cultivated with good results in partially shaded plots.
Of course, you can decide to grow habanero totally indoors by artificially deciding temperatures and humidity. In this case, we can also decide the soil to use as a growing medium. I do not recommend this method, since it is certainly not the most natural and eco-sustainable system.
The period of sowing and transplanting
The habanero plant can stand the cold and has a rather long crop cycle, in fact it is born in climatic areas where temperatures are mild all year round and fears temperatures below 15-16 degrees, even at night.
To have a good harvest in our areas it is important to know how to make the most of the warm months and to do this we must anticipate the sowing with a heated seedbed, it is also useful (although not essential) as a real grow box where to grow the seedling.
The sowing period can go from January to the end of March, where January requires the possibility of keeping the seedling sheltered for a longer period, so a grow box, while sowing in March generally takes place at the end of April to transplant, with seedlings still small size.
The seedlings should be planted in the garden between the end of April and the beginning of May, in central-southern Italy the transplant can be slightly anticipated. Better to avoid postponing to June instead, given the rather long cycle of the plant.
Let’s put the plants about 60-70 cm away from each other since the habanero is a cultivar that branches quite a lot.
I have already written a complete guide on the cultivation of hot peppers in general, even for habanero, it is advisable to refer to those indications, as well as to the various insights you will find on important topics such as sowing, growing boxes, and fertilization.
Here it may be useful to remember some tips that can help improve the yield:
- Mulch. Covering the soil with straw or sheets is useful to keep it moist and therefore reduce irrigation.
- Kaolin powder. The treatment with kaolin has several positive effects: it creates a mechanical barrier that deters some parasitic insects, absorbs moisture helping to contain diseases and protects the fruit from sunburn on very sunny days.
- Scalar collection. The more it is harvested, the more the habanero plant produces: in fact it stimulates itself to make new fruits.
- Do not irrigate near the crop. To have spicy and tasty peppers it is useful to suspend irrigation in the days before harvest.
The habanero cultivars
First of all, an important clarification: the name habanero today indicates different cultivars of chilli, which are related but also very different from each other, in shape, color, and degree of spiciness. The real habanero variety would be habanero orange, but various other similar cultivars have been selected, which have “stolen” the name. For this reason, we are talking about a “family” of varieties rather than a single cultivar.
Some characteristics are common to the various habaneros, while others are peculiar to the cultivar. For example, the color of habanero chocolate is completely different from that of red Savina. For this reason, it is worth seeing the varieties one by one.
Habanero orange: the original habanero
Habanero was born as an orange pepper, although many varieties of habanero were then selected, of different colors, from red to chocolate brown,
Its spiciness is measured in 200 – 300 thousand points on the Scoville scale, even if it does not reach the Guinness Book of Records, it is a cultivar with a very respectable spiciness. The orange habanero is particularly appreciated for its fruity flavor.
Habanero red savina: the spiciest
In 1989, chili farmer Frank Garcia found a plant with red fruits in his habanero orange field. This new variety was recognized in 1993 and takes the name of habanero red Savina, from the color of the fruit (red, in English red) and from the name of Frank’s mother (in fact, Savina).
The red Savina has measured 577,000 points, SHU Scoville, at that time it was the hottest pepper in the world, so starting from 1994 the red Savina enters the Guinness Book of Records, a record that it lost in 2007 beaten by Bhut Jolokia. Today, extremely hot pepper varieties have been selected, exceeding 2 million SHU on the Scoville scale, but habanero red Savina remains one of the most popular and cultivated super hot peppers in the world.
A decidedly spicy cultivar, with brown skin as its name suggests, it is one of the most renowned varieties in terms of cuisine. The fruits of chocolate are a little larger than another habanero, very interesting as a fruity and slightly smoky flavor.
This pepper, also called black Congo, dries well in the sun but is also excellent fresh.
Habanero peach is very similar to orange in characteristics, spiciness, and flavor. It is a very productive type of habanero, with lighter skin, tending to peach pink.
Top chilli pepper (Habanero orange blob)
A beautiful plant, which also has an aesthetic ornamental value if grown in the garden or in pots, the top chilli pepper has a very particular fruit shape, wrinkled skin, average spiciness, and a good flavor that has citrus notes.
Bullet pepper (Habanero white bullet)
This white habanero is a relatively mildly spicy habanero compared to the rest of the family, with ivory white skin. The fruits are small and have a not very fleshy pulp, excellent for drying and for making flavored oil.
Being a fairly small plant, it is perfect for growing in pots.
You may be interested to read about the Grow peppers blogpost/ Jalapeño pepper blogpost/ Pasta With Peppers Cruschi Recipe/ Stuffed baguette with peppers recipe/ Italian roasted peppers recipe/ Hot pepper jam recipe/ Blender tapioca cake recipe.