On The Range: Habaneros

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On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

Mad Cat, Insanity, Hogs Ass, Snake Bite, Idiot Boys.

No, this is not the Granada's line up for February. Rather, they are names of hot sauces featuring the dreaded habanero chile, as listed by Chris McCarthy, food writer and owner of the Insane Chicken Hot Sauce & Barbecue Sauce store.

The names hint at the chile's intense heat and McCarthy further asserts that such heat has catapulted habanero hot sauces "to a cult status among sauce lovers of the world."

Habaneros are indeed intense, with a Scoville scale rating of 100,000 to 350,000 units, compared with the modest 8000 peak rating of jalapenos. The name habanero means literally "from Havana," although Diana Kennedy suggests in her book The Cuisines of Mexico that they originated from the Yucatan peninsula and South America rather than Cuba.


Apparently, because habaneros were widely traded in the Cuban capitol's markets, it was believed that the fiery pepper originated there.

Habaneros are members of the species capsicum chinense, like their dragon-fire cousin, the Scotch Bonnet. The two peppers are often confused, although the Scotch Bonnet seems to have originated in the Caribbean, where it is combined with allspice to make the jerk seasoning so crucial to cooking in Jamaica and other Central American islands.

More people nowadays know the name 'habanero'--and there are thus more stories associated with the beast. For instance, can habaneros help improve your love life? Yes, says Dave DeWitt, chile guru and author (along with Paul W. Bosland) of The Complete Chile Pepper Book. In his article "Habanero Chile Peppers: The Hottest Spice in the World," he records a legend from Guadeloupe where the chile is "called le derriere de Madame Jacques" and "that pepper is combined with crushed peanuts, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, vanilla beans packed in brandy, and an island liqueur called Crème de Banana to make an aphrodisiac."

DeWitt also makes a compelling case for the health benefits of habaneros and other chiles. In his book The Healing Powers of Peppers--he really is obsessed--Dewitt and coauthors Melissa T Stock and Kellye Hunter cite numerous English and Dutch studies showing that regular consumption of capsacins can burn fat, reduce cholesterol, and fire up the bodies metabolism by "triggering a thermodynamic burn that can last up to five hours after eating."  According the the trio, "this process speeds up the metabolism and melts calories while preventing new fat from forming."


So visual evidence suggests a lot of people don't eat chiles. But if you're hell-bent on checking DeWitt's research, there are many venues in Dallas that serve habaneros. At the newly-opened Los Cabos Mexican Grill and Cantina, you can ask your waitress for their habanero sauce. When she brings it to your table, she may also warn you by saying "A little goes a long way."

Indeed, despite the pale, peachy appearance of the sauce, only a teaspoon or two is needed to totally transform your pollo con chorizo or shredded beef burrito into a volcanic feast.

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