Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Habanero Harvest - The Fiery Truth About Making Your Own Hot Chili Powder


It's been a long time comin.' Last Saturday morning I finished my week long harvest of Habanero Peppers - my first of the season - and decided I'd try my hand at making habanero powder using my fairly new Nesco Food Dehydrator. So far, I've only used this machine to successfully dry herbs.

Before starting I knew what I was in for. Habaneros are the second HOTTEST chili pepper in the world (second only to the Ghost Pepper). This adds to the allure and challenge of making/eating such a potent pepper. Love it or hate it, Habaneros give me a rush unlike anything on this earth.

A little goes a long way, so this batch alone should take me through most of the winter. I will keep some in a small shaker and, like Mustard from hell, I will make mix my habanero powder into a half empty container of my favorite mustard. I might even try to sell some pure powder online.
Before placing in your dehydrator, wash and cut Habanero peppers into 1/2" slices
The dehydration process

With it's conveniently included recipe & instruction guide, I placed my cut habaneros (says to cut them in 1/2" slices) in the Nesco Food Dehydrator and turned it to 135 degrees. Though the drying time is said to be 3-20 hours for peppers, my batch was finished closer to the 20-hour range.

Harvest weight vs. dehydrated weight

Out of the 16 ounce harvest, I used about 14 ounces for dehydration (kept a few fresh ones for myself). After a day of dehydrating at 135 degrees - and then grinding into dust - I finished with just 3 ounces of powder. This means that 75 to 80 percent of my habanero pepper weight was moisture (water).

Just how much powder can one healthy habanero plant make in a season?

Out of curiosity I will be keeping a running tally of exactly how much powder a good habanero plant can produce in a general growing season (Zone 7).

Judging by this first harvest, I would estimate that each plant may produce 8-16 ounces of powder.

Though I will not be making powder from the majority of my habaneros, I can weigh my fresh harvest and - deducting 80% from that weight - determine a minimum seasonal powder yield. At season's end, I will report my findings and add an addendum to this blog post.
What I like about the Nesco Food Dehydrator is that it does a great job drying herbs, nuts, meats, fruits and of course vegetables at precise temperatures. This is important, because it enables your food to maintain valuable nutrition otherwise lost using a microwave or oven to dry your foods. In addition, the Nesco Food Dehydrator is expandable up to 12 trays! (I only used 5 on this occasion) - perfect for large drying projects. If you're worried about small herbs or food falling through the cracks, you can buy specialized plastic screens to help minimize loss.
Cautiously painful experience

Trust me, habanero pepper juice & powder WILL get on your hands (and eventually everywhere else) throughout this whole process. At 30 times the calibur of jalapeno peppers, just touching a habanero can be enough to set off extreme bodily reactions for some folks.

Dehydrating in an open space, such as the kitchen, can bring tears to other household members.

Breathing near the dust of newly ground-up habaneros can literally take your breathe away for a few moments - or set off allergic-type reactions.

Cleaning or handling utensils/dishes etc. used to make habanero powder may leave residue on your hands - only to realize it hours later when you wipe your face (or even worse, when you use the bathroom).
Final tally - about 3 oz.
My personal recommendations for making habanero powder:

1) Wash your hands often and thoroughly when handling habaneros - this includes after harvesting, cutting, working with the dehydrator and food grinder, and cleaning afterwards. If possible, wash your hands by using concentrated dish cleaning soap or something such as heavy duty garage hand-cleaner. Do not use just plain water.

2) Since this is such cautious and delicate process, I would recommend waiting long enough to make ONE HUGE batch - rather than making several smaller batches throughout the season. This can be done by freezing peppers until you're ready. Peppers do not have to be blanched to be frozen, and while peppers lose their crunch when put in a freezer - this does not matter for dehydration purposes.

Further study: Nesco Food Dehydrator


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