As is with most other life aspects, the position of “the world’s hottest pepper” is always fiercely contested. Chili farmers and other interested parties spend much time researching, altering the environment where their pepper grows, and cultivating their produce, hoping to rank among the best.
But how do you tell what the hottest pepper is? Surely it can’t be through physical tasting. In 1912, pharmacist Wilbur Scoville developed a metric for measuring pepper spiciness. He called it the Scoville Heat Units, and it’s popular to date. Here is a list of the hottest peppers as ranked by their SHUs.
1. The Carolina Reaper
Recognized by the Guinness World Records, the Carolina Reaper holds the world’s hottest pepper title with 2,200,000 SHU. First crowned in 2013, further tests on the Reaper in 2018 cemented its place as the world’s spiciest.
Can you safely eat the Carolina Reaper? While no rule prevents you from doing so, experiences from those who have interacted with it suggest that you approach it cautiously.
For instance, when a 34-year-old man tried the Carolina Reaper in 2018, he was rushed to the emergency room suffering from severe headaches. His brain scans revealed that his arteries constricted but returned to normal several weeks later.
Another case was reported in 2020 when a teenager was diagnosed with acute cerebellar stroke after ingesting the Carolina Reaper. There have been successful stories, though. For example, Gregory “Iron Guts” from Australia ate 160 pieces of this pepper in one sitting. He won the League of Fire competition.
2. Pepper X
Pepper X (a temporary name) is a cross of multiple peppers aimed at beating the Reaper’s record from the man behind the Carolina Reaper. It seems to have achieved just that because Ed Currie of Puckerbutt Pepper Company notes that Pepper X is 2 times hotter than the Carolina Reaper.
True to his word, the Scoville Heat Units for Pepper X is 3.18 million (almost 2 times the Reaper). However, the official Guinness World Records does not recognize it, yet, so it will have to settle for second place.
3. Apollo Pepper
Apollo Pepper is another one from Ed Currie and his Puckerbutt Pepper Company. It results from a cross between Pepper X and the Carolina Reaper. The estimated Scoville Heat Unit for the Apollo Pepper is between 2.5 and 3 million. This is about 600 times hotter than your ordinary jalapeno pepper.
4. Dragon’s Breath Pepper
Finally, we have a contestant not from Ed Currie and his company. The Dragon’s Breath Pepper tastes exactly as it sounds: extremely hot. With 2.48 million Scoville Heat Units, the pepper originates from the United Kingdom.
It is a product of collaboration between NPK Technology, an established chili farmer Neal Price, and Nottingham Trent University. Though unofficial, the Dragon’s Breath Pepper is technically hotter than the Carolina Reaper, considering it has higher SHUs.
5. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
The hottest Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper has clocked about 2 million Scoville Heat Units, claiming its place in the table of greats (almost literally). While you can consume this product, proceed with extreme caution. Use sparingly in chili, soups, sauces, and fresh salsa.
Like other superhot peppers, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper takes some time (90-120) days to reach maturity. Its pods usually start as green, then turn to yellow, and eventually to red once ready for picking.
6. Ghost Pepper
Before the Carolina Pepper, there was Ghost Pepper. It held the Guinness World record for the hottest pepper in 2007 and had its fair share of fame. Ghost Pepper is so hot that Indians in India use it to keep elephants away. When incorporated into smoke bombs and smeared onto fences, even the big-eared animals won’t want anything to do with the pepper.
With a Scoville Heat Unit of over 1 million, it may not be the hottest pepper now, but it deserves an honorary mention. It’s still levels above other famous peppers, such as the habaneros.
By the way, while talking about the hottest peppers, can we take a moment to think about the sweet bell pepper with a 0 (zero) Scoville rating? Okay, I digress.