The Other Chile Peppers

Enjoy rare chile peppers and exotic flavors with or without the heat.

| February/March 2004

If you're looking for unexpected flavors, like lemon or apricot, or extra heat in your chile peppers, it's time to explore the "other peppers." Ninety percent of pepper varieties, from bells to jalapenos, are the same species — Capsicum annuum.

Among the rest are smoky, fruity habaneros (C. chinese), fiery 'Tabasco' peppers (C. frutescens), citrus-like baccatums (C. baccatum) and pear-shaped rocotos (C. pubescens). Although these peppers are usually smaller than bell peppers, they pack their own special punch in terms of flavor and heat. Whether you want really fiery peppers or great flavors without the heat, you'll find lots of favorites among these four lesser-known species.

The Habaneros

According to pepper expert Dave DeWitt, co-author of The Pepper Garden, "All the C. chinense species are often referred to as habanero, but that appellation is a misnomer because literally hundreds of pod types exist. The name habanero refers to a specific pod type from the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico."

C. chinense, which usually produce pods 1 to 2 inches in diameter, are known for being fiery and flavorful, but describing that flavor is difficult. DeWitt, known affectionately as "The Pope of Peppers," has written more than 30 books about peppers and other spicy foods, so he's familiar with the dilemma. "All fresh, ripe chiles have fruity overtones," he says, "but there's a big problem trying to describe their flavor components. We don't have the descriptors to communicate what the actual flavors are."

Usually, C. chinense peppers are described as having a smoky, apricot-like flavor and a fresh, fruity smell that can't be missed. This base flavor is noticeable in a wide range of varieties, from such mild peppers as 'Aji Dulce' (1, 2, 4, 5) to such hellishly hot habaneros as 'Red Savina' (2), in which you can taste the smoky fruitiness right through the heat.

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