60-Second Science

New Habanero Pepper Burns Nematodes And Your Mouth

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists have bred a new, roundworm-resistant habanero pepper variety that does away with the need for soil fumigants, but still makes jalapenos taste tame. Steve Mirsky reports.

There are hot peppers, like the jalapeno.  And then there are incendiary, thermonuclear peppers.  Like the legendary habenero.  Now there’s a new variety of habanero, known as the tigerpaw NR habanero.  The name comes from its appearance—the bright orange pepper resembles a tiger’s paw.  And the NR stands for nematode resistant.  The pepper has been bred by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service scientists to be resistant to nematodes, flat worms that attack the plant’s roots. 

The pepper was bred conventionally, not genetically engineered.  And it does away with the need to use the soil fumigant methyl bromide, which is being phased out anyway.

So, how hot is the tigerpaw habanero?  Pepper hotness is measured on something called the Soville Heat Scale.  A jalapeno comes in at about 5000 on the Scoville scale.  A regular habenero usually scores at least 100,000.  And the TigerPaw habenero tips the Scoville scale at almost 350,000.

In fact, there’s a legend that eating habenero peppers can have the side effect of actually making you deaf.  But only so that you cannot hear your own screams. 

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