You’ve heard of the Habanero. Desert dormice have heard of the Habanero. It may be the world’s most loved chilli pepper. Well, the Caribbean Red Pepper is an “improved” (as chilli master-grower W. Atlee Burpee explains) version of the Habanero, which maintains its family’s world-famous distinctive taste, but is even hotter. Two times hotter.
The Caribbean Red Pepper is not for culinary shrinking violets. Its capsaicin content peaks at 577,000 Scoville Heat Units. That’s around 160 times the spice-magnitude of a Jalepeño. Well beat me with a cactus and call me Pablo. The Caribbean Red Pepper must be eased into position, told how beautiful she is, then consumed gently with respect and a decent supply of emergency ice-cream to hand. Chillies a fifth as strong will bring tears to dinner guests’ eyes. The Caribbean Red Pepper is one of the Fire-Queens of its genus.
It’s not just an epic spice-rush that propels the Caribbean Red Pepper to gastronomic stardom. Sweat and endorphins aside, many swoon for the feisty woman in red because of her skills with your taste-buds.
I quote a Caribbean Red Pepper testimonial by a senior grower on burpee.com: “This is by far the best pepper I have ever grown! Out of hundreds of varieties I’ve tried, this is my favourite, mostly because of it’s awesome flavour and smell… and heat! Awesome!”
Double-awesome indeed, Jimlad. But when wielding this silent beast in the kitchen, take caution. The Caribbean Red Pepper’s giant potency means that you only need the tiniest smidgen (which makes it very economical) to turn an understated salsa into a show-stopping fire-gargle. And when handling Caribbean Red Pepper, rub your eyes with your fingers only if you have seen all the wonders of the world many times over, and are tired of sight.
Caribbean Red Peppers take 3 or 4 months of sunbathing to mature from green to gleaming glossy blood-red vessels of brutish deliciousness. The little wrinkled fruits grow to a length of only one to two inches. If you think this size precludes humbling potency, bear in mind that the active components of the Hiroshima hydrogen bomb could fit in a suitcase. And if you drop a Caribbean Red Pepper, you’re not unnecessarily murdering 200,000 innocent Japanese civilians. Always a bonus, I feel.
Caribbean Red Peppers came to us – like perhaps all capsicums – from the sunny hills and jungles of South America. So say people with big beards and mud-stained notebooks, who figured the Amazon Basin to be the Caribbean Red Pepper’s most likely birthplace. A fittingly significant place of natural power and beauty for these fierce, vivacious foods to draw their characteristics from.
That said, a different band of pencil-gripping mad-eyed taxonomists instead deemed Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula region to be the start of life for the Caribbean Red Pepper. That place too would impart a mighty natural power to its native chillies, as it contains Central America’s largest continuous tracts of tropical rainforest (rapidly disappearing thanks to companies like McDonald’s and KFC).
Even earlier (18th century) beardy notebook-types named the overarching family to which Caribbean Red Peppers belong, “Capsicum chinese” – the Chinese pepper, after discovering an abundance of them cultivated all over China, and not bothering to trace them back further. The moral of this story is: never trust people with notebooks in China. And, when you eat Caribbean Red Pepper, think of rainforest.
Hearty Mexicans prize the Caribbean Red Pepper – which they simply call Habanero (originally Spanish Javanero) – for its exhilarating spiciness, and wonderful fruity, zingy-citrus flavour. They know a thing or two about spices. Caribbean Red Pepper is commonly used there in salsas and hot sauces. You can use Caribbean Red Pepper to bring fireworks to marinades, stews, pies. It’s even been known to flavour ice-cream. ‘Caribbean Red Pepper Surprise’. The surprise is, your brain is on fire and your taste-buds are in love, but your fillings have melted.
The Caribbean Red Pepper’s Chinese Lantern shaped fruits are harvested only when fully ripe, in order to maximise both the capsaicin potency and the bright zesty taste.
As is usually the case with chilli peppers, Caribbean Red Peppers are also remarkably good for you. They stimulate the metabolism. They fight cancer. They help diabetics. They are vitamin-rich and contain immune-boosting antioxidants. They reduce cholesterol… click on the “Benefits of Peppers” header of our website for the comprehensive rundown of the amazing and reassuring things they can do for us mere mortals.
So there you have it: bang, taste, healing. Caribbean Red Pepper wins. Case closed.