Tepin Peppers: A Habanero Killer?
Capsicum annuum var. glabrisculum, also known as Chiletepin, Tepin peppers or “bird’s eye” peppers are supposedly one of the hottest peppers in the world. Some chile enthusiasts argue that the Tepin is hotter than the habanero or Red Savina. These tiny peppers are about 3/8″ round to slightly oval, and are found in the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Northern Mexico. The word “Tepin” comes from the Nahuatl Mexican word meaning “flea”. In 1995, Texans named the Jalapeno pepper the official pepper of Texas, but two years later, the Tepin was named the official native pepper of Texas.
Tepins are extremely hot, measuring between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville Units. In Mexico, the heat of the Chiltepin is called arrebatado (“rapid” or “violent”), which implies that although the heat is great, it diminishes quickly.
You probably have never heard of the Tepin pepper, and probably would disagree that these tiny peppers could rival the heat of the Habanero or Scotch Bonnet. You may be asking why I’m bringing all this up. This is why:
A few months ago, my mother-in-law brought me a bag of tiny green pellets and said, “This guy at the office grows these and says they are hotter than habaneros. When he makes a batch of chili, he only puts on pepper in, and that’s all he needs.”
I couldn’t believe it. One tiny pepper? Hotter than a Habanero? How come I had never heard of this micro-monstrosity? Who’s been keeping this information from me? Is it terrorism? What’s our terror alert level!? Just look at the size of this thing:
Not one to be intimidated by such a small terror, I had to see for myself if the violent arrabatado was, in truth, a hotter burn than the infamous Habanero. I made plans for how I would test the peppers. To the Men in Aprons Laboratory! I devised three tests: 1.) the tongue touch, 2.) the beef taco test, and 3.) the eat whole thing and pray to Itzpzpaltol that I would live, or at least not crumple over in pain.
First up was the tongue touch. I cut one pepper in half and touched a half to the tip of my tongue. It was instantly lit afire. But, as suspected, the fire was abated in under a minute with no external milk interference. Judging by this lack of hellfire and brimstone, I decided to put four of the Tepin peppers (show above) in withe my taco meat. I made some quick smoky chili con carne tacos with 4 of the peppers chopped and thrown into the mix. The result: Nothing. Not a hint of heat whatsoever. In fact, I had to break out more Chipotle Tabasco just to bump it up a bit.
Finally, I did the eat-the-whole-pepper thing. Saying a quick Hail Mary, I popped the pepper in and chewed my way to glory. The heat was briefly intense, much like a serrano pepper. But there was a curious phenomenon. I only felt the heat on the places in my mouth where the pepper had physically touched. It was not like a Habanero, where your saliva helps the fire spread all over the inside of your mouth and throat. I figured that maybe since I had them in the freezer, the heat must have subsided somehow.
My other thought is this: since the Tepin peppers are so tiny, they actually have less capsaicin. A smaller size means smaller membranes which means smaller amounts of capsaicin.
In conclusion, I think the idea that the Tepin is hotter than a Habanero may be true in terms of pure Scoville Units. But in overall heat, mouth and butt-burning capability, and the amount of time the heat lasts, I still give Habaneros the award.