The Habanada Pepper Edition

On heatless habaneros, Dan Barber, and sweetness

Gabe Brosbe (GSB) works as a seller for enterprise software startups. In his off-hours, he is culturally omnivorous, checking out music and art around New York. We used to work together and he was always guaranteed to make me laugh. - Noah (NRB)

Gabe Here. As I started to venture out and explore new restaurants earlier this year, I found myself encountering not a new dish, but a new fruit. The waiter had excitedly explained that this meal featured “the world’s first truly heatless habanero”—the Habanada.  

Capsicum chinense

It turns out this pepper has a particularly prominent provenance! They came from Dan Barber’s (of Blue Hill at Stone Barns fame) Row 7 Seed Company and had a 20-year journey from seed to plate:

Breeder Michael Mazourek was studying at Cornell University in 2001 when he received a mysterious packet of seeds from researchers in New Mexico. The seeds were related to habanero peppers, a pepper famous for its intense burn. The twist? These particular peppers were heatless—the result of a natural mutation in the field. And they soon became the focus of Michael’s (surprisingly delicious) doctoral research.

Through years of crossing, selection, and DNA analysis, Michael discovered how to limit the habanero’s heat while preserving its floral and melon-like flavors. The resulting “Habanada” is aromatic with lingering sweetness, and it defies everything we’ve come to expect from a pepper. You can eat them green and unripe for a potent hit of aroma, or savor the habanadas’ full potential as a bright orange flavor bomb.

Why is this Interesting?

Like natural wine or tinned fish, I soon began to see Habanadas everywhere. Shortly after my meal at Niche Niche, they were on offer at Rolo’s and Nura, and proudly being sold at my local farmer’s market in Greenpoint. 

Why is everyone so excited about this pepper? Sweet peppers already exist, was this pepper really changing the game? Is this solving any sort of pepper problem? I asked the vendor at McGorlick park why people are so pumped about this pepper. In not so many words he said, “So we already have plenty of seasoning peppers, but people are really excited because it is Dan Barber. They want to support. Chefs will continue to pick it up and it will catch steam.” 

Yes, showcasing this pepper on a dish gives you a loose, but clear association with Chef Dan Barber and by extension, his acclaimed restaurant. It becomes an IYKYK (if you know you know) situation with diners. At Nura, it was found on the menu as “Grilled Prawns: Habanada, Passion Fruit, Urfa Biber, Mezcal.” A deliberate choice was made to give this pepper courtside seats.

So how does it taste? I bought a small box from the good folks at Brooklyn Grange. While I didn’t get the “flavor bomb” as advertised, it was a step above your standard sweet pepper. It has a pleasant brightness and a funny anticipation as you get a signal that heat is coming, but it never does. And with the thin skin, it was far less watery than your conventional mini sweet pepper. 

But it is also waving a flag of support for what Dan is going for with Row 7. Four seed companies now control 60% of the global market. Dan is trying to tip the scales back towards farmers, and away from global commodification: “Tastier food, healthier soil, more diverse and nutritious diets for as many people as possible.”

So with that, I’ve stopped looking side-eye at this little orange addition to my world. I will proudly order the Habanada when I see it, even if I do prefer a little spice in the end. (GSB)

Quick Links

--

WITI x McKinsey:

An ongoing partnership where we highlight interesting McKinsey research, writing, and data.

Solving the net-zero equation.  As COP26 continues, the climate crisis is top of mind for many leaders. And despite promising developments in promoting a sustainable future, net-zero is not currently in sight. To get there, the world needs to move swiftly from focusing on what needs to happen to how it can best be done. One way to start? Understanding the fundamental requirements of solving the net-zero equation. A holistic framework, explained in an in-depth new article, can help in this critical, collective quest.

--

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Gabe (GB) 

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing.

A guest post by