NPR's reporting on a heatless habanero variety called the habanada, bred by Michael Mazourek (Cornell) for his doctoral dissertation:
"We selected the habanero for heat because that's what was coveted. But what if you wanted to experience the melon-like experience of a pepper?" [NY chef Dan] Barber asks. "You can't do it with a habanero — you can with a Habanada."
As with most matters of taste, everyone describes the Habanada a little differently. Some say it has a citrus flavor, while others cite floral notes or even a hint of guava. But in some ways the main payoff of the Habanada is the anticipation it builds inside eaters' mouths. "Imagine as though you're tasting a habanero, so your taste buds feel as though there will be a rush of heat — but it never comes," [Ark Foods founder Noah] Robbins describes.
Now that's a pepper I'd like to try. I keep getting told habs have a nice flavor once you get past the sheer raw heat, but they're too hot for me to be able to tell. The article actually discusses this:
A normal, unaltered habanero can get up to 300,000 on the Scoville scale – which measures levels of capsaicin, the chemical that causes the burning sensation we call "heat. The [Carolina] Reaper registers at over 2 million. Reaper-eating challenges on the Internet often end in disaster for those who attempt it. Common side effects include: vomiting, sweating, stomach cramps, blisters in the mouth, and all around agony. Potential physical illness aside, "You get to a point where it's so hot that you aren't tasting anything but heat," [author Judith] Finlayson says. "You're in a state of numbness from the heat."
That's something I've been saying for years. As much as I like heat, it has to be balanced with the rest of the flavors in a dish; if you can't taste anything else anymore, what's the point? It makes about as much sense as pouring a pound of salt on your plate so that literally all you can taste is saltiness.
And then there's a good observation on flavors in general:
For most of the last 50 to 100 years, Barber says, the chef has been left out of the conversation of which plants were valuable. That decision has instead been in the purview of grocers, farmers, distributors, and others whose main concern wasn't taste but practicality. As a result, Barber says, we've dumbed down taste, flavors, and diversity for the sake of the industry that wants things to be controlled. "Chefs don't want that control. Just as a painter wants different colors of paint, chefs want different flavors of food."
And so do diners, I might add.