How I Found and Tamed the Fire of Hell in Habanero Peppers
In my adventure with Red Savina Habanero Peppers, I learned to find, cultivate, harvest, process, preserve, and store the Fire of Hell. The pictures summarize the story.
Many believe the seeds contain all the heat. They don’t. The veins that connect the seeds to the pod contain the most heat, then the pod, then the seeds.
I excised the core of the habanero pods, leaving the seeds and veins attached. The large core comes from the large peppers, and I wanted to cultivate large habaneros to increase bush yield. As you can see from the first photo, the pods approached 3 inches after several generations of cultivation in which I saved the seeds from only the largest peppers. I reasoned that Red Savinas produce such intense heat that no one would miss any heat lost by focusing on size instead of Scoville Heat Units. One pepper produces enough heat for several bottles of hot sauce.
I categorized the seed cores according to size alone. I didn’t worry in the above activity that I would lose some heat by not including the veins in the pepper mash.
I purchased the chemical-proof surgeon-style gloves from Home Depot. Unlike surgical gloves, they really keep the capsaicin (the heat) off your skin. If you touch your skin, say on face or genitals, with your hands after handling the peppers, you will feel an intense heat wherever you touched yourself, and it will take hours to go away.
I have processed these peppers with my bare hands many times, just to discover the intensity of the heat. In time I got used to it and looked forward to it. But once the fun wore off (because I often forgot and touched other areas and regretted it), I started wearing the gloves.
Surgeon’s beige gloves and phlebotomist’s purple gloves will allow the capsaicin through to the skin, so you might as well not wear any at all if you have only those.
The jar contains pepper pods pureed with sea salt in a Vitamix blender. I typically use 3% salt by weight, about 1 tablespoon per pint of puree or pound of de-seeded pods. I believe only 1 teaspoon per pint (1%) will work just as well to suppress the growth of pathogens without harming beneficial bacteria that does the fermentation. If you can suppress mold growth, you can leave the peppers unrefrigerated and sealed after the bubbling subsides completely if you don’t allow air to contact the mash. I refrigerate mine (in the fridge) because I don’t want to worry about mold at all.
Of course, you can heat-treat the mash to kill all the microorganisms, but I never do that because I want to eat the live product.
To increase acidity, and further retard pathogens you can add apple cider vinegar, such as for making hot sauce.
I sometimes puree other vegetables and add them to the pepper mash with commensurate salt. Examples include green papaya, carrot, cabbage, radish, ginger root, horseradish root, onion, and garlic. The green papaya and carrot don’t change the flavor much, but the others change it dramatically. You’ll get smells and tastes resembling that of kim chee.
My most recent effort included pureeing four medium carrots and two large green papayas, 1% salt, and mixing them with four ounces of fermented habanero juice. This caused fermentation of the whole mass, and yielded a gallon of combined mash that has a delicious flavor.
You need no more than one-half to one teaspoon of the pepper mash shown in the jar above to flavor and ferment 5 ounces of other vegetable mash, and give it robust heat. I like to dilute Red Savina Habanero mash like that because the intense heat prevents me from obtaining sufficient habanero fruit flavor. The habanero has a really unique and delicious flavor if you can get past the heat. So I try to add vegetables without too much distracting flavor in order to dilute the heat while retaining the habanero flavor. It worked well with carrots and green papaya, and the carrots made sure the resulting product retained its red-orange color.