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I recently made a curry with 4 habaneros and 2 Tbsp (approx. 30 mL) of ground cayenne powder.

It was extremely spicy so I'd like to reduce the heat next time and am wondering what the relative contribution of each ingredient was.

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  • I'm sure it is obvious to you, but its always easier to add heat than take it away. You can start with 1/2 the amount and add in as needed. However, the ground powder is going to add its heat relatively quickly while the pepper will have to cook a bit to release all its heat. Also keep in mind you can tone down the heat of peppers with the addition of butter, which is never a bad thing to toss into your curry anyway.
    – Jason
    Apr 24 '20 at 14:50
  • @Jason That's maybe a fine approach for a throwaway dish just to gauge the spice level, but cayenne and chilis really needs to temper in the oil at the start of the cook for the flavour to infuse correctly. Adding them raw at the end really doesn't work - the watery low-temp cook won't properly bring the flavours out. The best option for this approach is to temper the cayenne and habaneros in oil separately and then add that oil/chilli mix bit by bit to the finished dish.
    – J...
    Apr 24 '20 at 14:54
  • How are the habaneros cooked? Are they chopped up?
    – Deolater
    Apr 24 '20 at 15:30
  • @J... you make a very valid observation. I failed to consider how the flavors of the peppers would interact with the other ingredients.
    – Jason
    Apr 24 '20 at 16:03
  • Curry is not Tex-Mex. Habanero? Cayenne? Really? Apr 24 '20 at 20:48
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Notwithstanding the two current answers - that it's really hard to guess - there's an additional concern.

In terms of actual flavour rather than simple heat, you can taste (& smell) habanero in pretty much anything, even at low concentrations. It's a fabulous aromatic. Cayenne, on the other hand, is really almost flavourless in comparison.

So, as well as re-balancing your heat, you need to work on how much of that habanero flavour you want in the final product.

I'd start by dropping your entire chilli content to just one or two habaneros, no cayenne. Taste halfway through the simmer. You can add more of either habanero or cayenne at any time, the flavour of chilli doesn't really change too much over the cooking time that you can't just slip a bit more in if it's too mild.
Work towards 'just enough habanero flavour' & if it's too mild, work in some cayenne nearer the end.

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  • I'd suggest using "hot paprika" rather than cayenne (and possibly even a little mustard). The latter really does lack flavour in comparison. Apr 24 '20 at 1:33
  • 1
    Cayenne, on the other hand, is really almost flavourless in comparison. - Maybe if you buy the cheapest old stale dust you can find at a supermarket, but I have to object to that statement generally. Good quality chilli powders can have a fantastic range of aromas and definitely add critical flavour to a dish.
    – J...
    Apr 24 '20 at 15:49
  • @J... I have Cayenne, both fresh & dried right now. Try comparing A/B to Habanero/Scotch Bonnet, which I have only fresh.
    – unlisted
    Apr 24 '20 at 16:09
  • @Tetsujin I'm not sure what you're saying. You're half a world away. I can't taste what's in your kitchen. I don't doubt that what you say is true of the chillis in your possesion, I'm just saying that the chillis in your kitchen cannot be representative of all examples of cayenne/chilli powders.
    – J...
    Apr 24 '20 at 16:22
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    @Tetsujin Apologies, then, but that's not my intent. It's a common misconception (that cayenne is flavourless), generally owing to an experience limited to poor quality spice. You don't have to believe me that cayenne with flavour exists, of course.
    – J...
    Apr 24 '20 at 16:55
8

The question is interesting, but it is not answerable. You have quite a few levels on which you are getting a variation.

  • The amount of pepper. "One habanero" is not a well-calibrated unit, they come in differnt sizes. Volumetric measurement of powders like cayenne pepper also doesn't give you comparability, you would have to use weight. But even then, depending on how well dried the powder is, one gram of it will correspond to more or less grams of raw pepper.
  • The amount of capsaicin. This is the worst problem here - capsaicin content of peppers varies for each crop, because of genetic lineage, cross-polination, growing condiions, and the nondeterministic nature of biological processes. So you cannot say that you have X amount of capsaicin per gram of raw habanero or cayenne.
  • The nonlinear human reaction to capsaicin - if you use twice the amount of capsaicin, you won't perceive it as twice as spicy.

Even if we are talking in very broad terms, you cannot make the assumption that one of the two is so "weak" that you only have to change the other. Each of the two contributed. So you will just have to experiment with the curry and see what amount of spice you enjoy most - and don't forget to taste each batch while making it. I would suggest to start from much lower levels, just based on what typical amounts are - maybe one teaspoon of cayenne for a 2-3 liter pot of curry would be a good starting point for a Western cook. But of course, you will want more if you are accustomed to very spicy food.

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  • 3
    There's another variable: the capsaicin in habaneros is, for some reason, quite loosely held, so that cooking them over medium to high heat causes quite a bit of the heat to vaporize (as you'd know if you ever fried some in a closed kitchen). So "how hot are the habaneros" also depends on the cooking procedure.
    – FuzzyChef
    Apr 24 '20 at 5:27
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You don't mention how much curry you made, but that sounds like an excessive amount of pepper for most applications. Cayenne powder ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units, making it a "medium to hot" pepper. Habanero peppers can range from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville heat units. These are among the hottest peppers. So your habanero peppers are likely to be at least twice as hot as the cayenne.

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Personally, I'd skip on the Cayenne powder. To match the pungency of the Habaneros, you'd need quite a bit of powder. Habaneros have both an intense aroma and quite high spiciness. If you are making the curry for someone who actually enjoys that kind of spiciness, he will be able to enjoy the taste independently of the spiciness, and this amount of Cayenne powder just tastes, well, powdery. It's no fun.

So just use the habaneros. If you find that the result is too hot when the habanero aroma is just right, remove part of all of the orange pith around the seeds (and remove the seeds anyway). That part is by far the hottest in an habanero. Personally, I consider removing it a sin, but tastes differ.

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