It's time to start planning backyard gardens, and there's a new type of chili pepper to consider: the habanada. This heatless habanero is a pepper that packs an unexpected tropical, fruity flavor but as the name implies, there's no blowout heat.
Chef Dan Barber serves them at his Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, according to NPR. Barber serves the peppers with just salt and pepper and watches while diners bite into them only to be confused when the expected burning sensation never arrives.
"When [our diners] question things they know to be absolute — habanero equals intense heat — it gets them to think about eating in a different way," says Barber.
The habanada is the creation of Cornell University's Michael Mazourek, whose doctoral research led him to breed it. He was curious about a heatless pepper he discovered that, frankly, didn't taste very good. That pepper was cross-pollinated with a habanero for generations until "non-hot but aromatic peppers" were achieved.
That was about 10 years ago. In the few years, this pepper has become available for the public to purchase and grow themselves. Here's what a couple of seed sellers say about growing these peppers at home:
Fruition Seeds, a company that sells habanada seeds, notes that the peppers grow abundantly and gardeners can expect a pint a week once harvesting begins. The plants take 75 days to produce a green fruit and as the fruit ripens to orange in 100 days, it will develop its flavor and sweetness.
Jungseed Co, another seller, calls the habanada a "foodie's dream-come-true" and says they can be eaten roasted or raw, and even used in ice cream or sherbet, as shown in the mini habanada sherbet cones pictured below.
What else can be done with a habanada? The first thing that comes to my mind is a stuffed popper in which the pepper and the cheesy-filling shine instead of the spicy heat. Charred Peppers with Burrata and Breadcrumbs is another recipe that uses the pepper, but my search didn't turn up too many other recipes for this modern vegetable.
And that's an opportunity! You can grow them in your backyard and impress your friends with the results this summer. Grow them, create your own dishes that use them, and introduce your guests to the latest hot (but not hot) vegetable. Then sit back like Chef Barber and watch as guests enjoy these heatless habaneros.