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Posted November 22, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Peppers
 
 

A cool idea: Taming the habanero


Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times
November 21, 2004 PEPPER1121

WESLACO, TEXAS — It’s a burning issue for some hot-pepper lovers: Whatever possessed Dr. Kevin M. Crosby to create the mild habanero?

For Crosby, a plant geneticist at the Texas A&M Agricultural Experiment Station here near the Mexican border, the answer is simple: “I’m not going to take away the regular habanero. You can still grow and eat that, if you want to kill yourself.”

But for those who prize the fieriest domesticated capsicum for its taste and health-boosting qualities, Crosby and the research station in the Rio Grande Valley have developed and patented the TAM mild habanero, with less than half the bite of the familiar jalapeno (which A&M scientists also previously produced in a milder version).

With worldwide pepper consumption rising, according to industry experts, the new variety — a heart-shaped nugget bred in benign golden yellow to distinguish it from the alarming orange original, the common Yucatan habanero — is beginning to reach store shelves, to the delight of processors and the research station, which stands to earn unspecified royalties if the new pepper catches on.

“I love it,” said Josh Ruiz, a local farmer whose pickers last week filled about 200 boxes of the peppers to be sold to grocers for about $35 a box. “It yields good and I’m able to eat it.” As for the Yucatan habanero, he said, “My stomach just can’t take it.”

By comparison, if a regular jalapeno scores between 5,000 and 10,000 units on the Scoville scale of pepper hotness. a regular habanero averages around 300,000 to 400,000 units, A&M’s mild version registers a tepid 2,300, or barely one-hundredth of its coolest formidable namesake. A bell pepper scores zero.

Not everyone hails the breakthrough. Crosby, 33, a native Texan and a distant relative of the crooner Bing, said “chili pepper fanatics” have called with rude questions about what he was thinking and why he was wasting his time. A Mexican voiced complete bewilderment. Why, he asked Crosby, would you want a habanero that’s not hot?

Crosby said he sympathized. He had, after all, seen Mayans in the Yucatan eating their way through plates of habaneros dipped in salt. “I’ve heard it said it’s addictive,” he said


Nick Lindauer

 
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