Growing up in Nigeria, Albert Ayeni developed a fondness for local peppers that set his mouth on fire.
“We love the hotter ones,” he said with a chuckle.
But as a Rutgers University biologist who develops new crops for American farmers, he knows he must appeal to a broader palate.
The bright-orange peppers measure 30,000 to 50,000 units on the Scoville heat scale — less than one-fifth the rating of a traditional habanero.
(No pumpkin taste. The name comes from the pepper's roundish shape, which was accidental.)
Ayeni and his colleagues produced the new pepper by crossing varieties of Mexican and African habañeros, a process that began in 2010. Pumpkin habanero seeds and plants — but not the peppers themselves — will be sold for the first time on Saturday at the Rutgers floriculture greenhouse in New Brunswick and at other locations in New Jersey throughout the spring.
A prime goal of Ayeni's research is to develop high-value niche crops that make economic sense for small farms in New Jersey and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic region.
In addition to its lower heat rating, the pumpkin habanero is high in antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and beta carotene.