Hot Stuff: Habanero Simple Syrup

Why do bar-made drinks taste better than home-made drinks? One answer is that bartenders brew up simple syrups in all kinds of flavors that you can’t buy at a store. Chile pepper-infused syrups are among those flavors.

That’s not because infused syrups are hard to make — they are, pardon the pun, simple. But some flavors are ephemeral — think of fresh tomato slices, and newly-peeled cucumbers. Those tantalizing aromas and flavors are fleeting, and even the best bottling and preservation methods can’t capture the freshness, the juicy texture. Chile peppers are like that too. They have a certain vegetal taste and fresh heat that just doesn’t keep. Confined to a bottle, it turns harsh, black pepper-y and sulfurous (think rotten eggs). Your best bet is to do what bars do:  make a small-batch infusion to add gentle heat to drinks. Here’s how:

1. Start with fresh chile peppers. They should be smooth, brightly colored (I love the orange habaneros!) and not too wrinkly. Note the rubber gloves – I definitely recommend wearing gloves when cutting chiles, especially the hotter ones like habanero peppers.

Whole habaneros

Whole habaneros

2. Trim off the stem end, and slice the peppers in half for a faster, hotter infusion. Keep the seeds and the white ribs inside, where most of the heat resides. The first photo below shows the habs I used in the syrup; the second photo shows a pepper with dark seeds on the verge of rot, which I tossed out.

Good-looking sliced habaneros

Good-looking sliced habaneros

Rotten seeds inside - toss it!

Rotten seeds inside - toss it!

3. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of granulated sugar. Set the stove burner to high; you want the water to boil. While you’re waiting (and you won’t wait long), stir the sugar into the water until it dissolves. The mixture will go from milky white to clear. At that point, stir in the habanero pieces.

Stir in the sugar

Stir in the sugar

Add the habaneros

Add the habaneros

And bring to a boil!

And bring to a boil!

4. Allow the mixture to come to a rapid boil, and then immediately turn the heat down so it just simmers. Let it simmer for 10 minutes, and then remove from the heat. The syrup will reduce and thicken slightly, and will take on a faint orange tinge.

Nearly finished. Does this look orange to you?

Nearly finished. Does this look orange to you?

5. Allow the syrup to cool (about 30 minutes). Remove the pepper pieces and any stray floating seeds, and discard them. Decant the syrup into a squeeze bottle (or any container with a lid) and close tightly. And don’t forget to label the syrup!

The finished habanero syrup will keep, refrigerated, for about 2 weeks. Try using it in any cocktail — but add a “Dragonfire” or “Fiery” in front of the name. Try it and let me know what you think!

21 thoughts on “Hot Stuff: Habanero Simple Syrup

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  6. I sometimes make a Manhattan with habenero simple syrup subbing for the sweet vermouth:

    two parts rye whiskey
    one part habenero syrup
    dash of Angostura Orange Bitters
    shaken over ice and served with a twist of orange

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  8. We have a short, stout habañero plant (our first) growing in a wine barrel in the back yard that has about a dozen peppers that are due to ripen any day now. I cannot wait to try this recipe.

    • Congrats on the impending habanero harvest! I’d love to hear how the recipe turns out. The Manhattan recipe posted in the comment above yours sounds like a great way to use the syrup.

  9. 1.5 ounces of tequlia, 4-6 thin slices of fresh ginger, 1ounce of lime juice, a few mint leaves muddles with 20ml of chilli infused sugar syrup, strained into lowball glass add a few extra mint leavss in glass top with crushed ice and granish with a red chilli (small) and a ginger knot.

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  12. Even though you initially showed us three habanarro’s, it looks as if you’re only using 2 to make the syrup. Am I right?

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