When it comes to spice, the prevailing trend has been more, more, more. We’ve seen a growing lust for crazy hot sauces, and far too many painful YouTube pepper challenges. Pepper growers have even been engaging in “pepper wars” to try to set new records for heat on the Scoville scale. But as NPR reports, there is another way. Some chefs have been finding excitement on the opposite end of the spectrum, serving up a relatively new type of pepper called a “Habanada” – aka the “heatless habanero.”
Habanadas were developed by Michael Mazourek, a Cornell University plant breeder. As the story is told, he came across a genetic misfit of a pepper that had somehow lost as its heat. Though that crazy pepper “tasted pretty bad,” as he described it to NPR, “we cross-pollinated it with a habanero, and after a couple more generations we started to get some non-hot but aromatic peppers.” And in 2007, the Habanada was born.
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A decade later, Habanadas are apparently still trying to find their culinary footing. Only one commercial grower exists – Ark Foods – and according to NPR, their distributor, Baldor Specialty Foods, only sells Habanadas to restaurants, so you’re unlikely to find these peppers in the “heatless peppers” section of your local grocery chain. The other option is to buy the seeds and grow Habanadas yourself – though good luck trying to impress your friends by saying, “Taste how unspicy this pepper I grew is!”
All kidding aside though, fans of the Habanadas praise the unique peppers for actually offering up flavors instead of just mouth numbing heat. Supposedly they sport citrus or floral notes, or even fruity notes like melon or guava. But Ark Foods founder Noah Robbins tells NPR the peppers have another exciting trick up their sleeve. “Imagine as though you're tasting a habanero, so your taste buds feel as though there will be a rush of heat — but it never comes,” he says. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, watching a bomb go off may be surprising, but waiting for one to go off creates suspense. Maybe our peppers need more of the latter.
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