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Humans have been using peppers to add a spicy kick to food for thousands of years, but many of the spicy peppers consumed today are much hotter than ones that grow in the wild. Nowadays, cultivators crossbreed various pepper varieties to create spicier ones, with names like Scorpion and Reaper that should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for.
Capsaicin is the chemical component in peppers that invoke the pain sensation — the higher the level of capsaicin, the spicier the pepper will taste. Researchers use the Scoville scale to rank a food’s spiciness, measuring a pepper’s heat using Scoville Heat Units (SHU). (Variations in capsaicin levels exist even within peppers of the same variety, so you’ll often see SHU displayed in ranges instead of a single score.)
Think you’re brave enough to taste them? Here are 10 of the world’s hottest peppers and where they come from.
Pot Barrackpore (Trinidad)
The Pot Barrackpore (1-1.3 million SHU) hails from a region of the same name on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, which is home to a variety of mega-hot peppers in a family called 7 Pot (because one Pot pepper is hot enough to spice seven pots of stew). The Pot Barrackpore is 125 to 520 times hotter than a typical jalapeño pepper (2,500-8,000 SHU), but tends to be a little more bitter and less sweet than other 7 Pot peppers. In appearance, it looks similar to a ghost pepper with wrinkled skin, but the Pot Barrackpore grows up to three inches long and sometimes generates a menacing scorpion-like tail. You can (carefully!) use the pepper in homemade hot sauces and marinades to impress your spice-loving friends and family members.
7 Pot Brain Strain (North Carolina)
The aptly named 7 Pot Brain Strain pepper (1-1.35 million SHU) is also part of the Trinidadian 7 Pot family of peppers. Like the Pot Barrackpore, it follows a green to red, yellow, or brown maturation cycle and sometimes grows a stinger-like tail. Its slightly smoky and fruity flavor hides behind its intense heat. A tiny sliver of a 7 Pot Brain Strain is plenty to spice up a pot of chili. A chili cultivator named David Capiello created the strain in North Carolina from seeds he received from a Trinidadian grower in 2010.
Naga Viper (United Kingdom)
The piercing hot Naga Viper (0.9-1.38 million SHU) is a crossbreed of three scorchers — ghost pepper, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, and Naga Morich. Although the pepper’s ancestors come from India and Trinidad, the Chilli Pepper Company’s Gerald Fowler cultivated the Naga Viper in the U.K. It once held the “hottest pepper” spot in the Guinness Book of World Records but has since been usurped. At 113 to 553 times hotter than a jalapeño, the Naga Viper inflicts its pain in a slow burn after a fruity, sweet introduction. Chefs use it in rubs and inferno-hot sauces like this recipe for Honolulu Heat that uses four of the fiery peppers.
Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” (Mississippi)
Another pepper that once held the Guinness World Record, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” (0.8-1.46 million SHU) was first cultivated in Mississippi by Butch Taylor, a farmer and hot sauce creator. Taylor received some Trinidad Scorpion pepper seeds and found they grew well in the Mississippi climate. When an Australian hot sauce company wanted to use them to make a sauce, they discovered the pepper’s extreme SHU level during testing. The company submitted the results to the Guinness Book of World Records and named the pepper after Taylor. Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” peppers grow up to two inches long with a wrinkly, bulbous exterior and a scorpion-like stinger. This “Butch T” chicken spicy chili recipe uses two dried Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” peppers and chili powder.
Naga Morich (Bangladesh and India)
A close cousin of the Dorset Naga and ghost pepper, the Naga Morich (1-1.5 million SHU), also known as the Serpent Chili, originated in Bangladesh and northeast India. Locals sometimes eat them raw in their slightly milder green stage as a fiery side dish. At 125 to 600 times hotter than a jalapeño, the Naga Morich packs a serious punch: It takes about 30 seconds to feel the heat, so it’s a slower burn than some other mega-hot peppers. The pepper’s sweet and fruity flavor works well in marinades and sauces.
Dorset Naga (United Kingdom)
Some chili aficionados consider the Dorset Naga (1-1.6 million SHU) and the Naga Morich the same pepper, but the former is a separate strain developed in Dorset, England, from Naga Morich seeds. They are very similar in taste, but the Dorset Naga heat intensifies at a slightly slower pace. Popular in Great Britain, Dorset Naga peppers are prized for their fruity aroma and find their way into marinades, powders, seasonings, and sauces — like this smooth dorset hot sauce recipe that uses the peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, garlic, herbs, and vinegar, which are simmered and pureed.
Pot Douglah (Trinidad)
Also known as the Chocolate 7 Pot, the Pot Douglah (0.92-1.85 million SHU) differs in taste and appearance from the bright red of most atomic-hot peppers. It has a brownish hue and a slightly nutty flavor. Like many peppers on this list, the Pot Douglah hails from Trinidad, and the name “Douglah” refers to a person of mixed African and Indian descent. The pepper grows to about two inches and resembles a habanero pepper in shape and texture, with wrinkled, pocketed skin. When you slice one open, you can see its inferno-hot capsaicin oil seep out. For a tongue-tingling dessert, check out this recipe for 7 Pot Douglah chocolate chili sauce you can pour over ice cream, brownies and other treats.
Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (Trinidad)
You know you’re in for a mouth-blistering experience with a name like Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (1.2-2 million SHU), and one look at the scorpion-like tail of this pepper might be enough to make you think twice. Growers and chefs must wear latex suits and sturdy gloves just to handle them — and some still end up with numb fingers for days afterward. Eating them raw causes blistering in the mouth and throat. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is a favorite ingredient for making extremely hot sauces and chili powders such as Xtreme Regret hot sauce and Red Tail Scorpion chili powder spice.
Komodo Dragon Pepper (United Kingdom)
Like most super-hots, the Komodo Dragon Pepper (1.4-2.2 million SHU) has a deceiving fruity flavor that hides a dragon-fire heat that kicks in after about 10 seconds. Up to 880 times hotter than a jalapeño, this pepper grows to about two inches and turns fire-engine red when mature. Unlike most of the extreme peppers, which are difficult to find fresh in stores, some supermarkets in the U.K. and Europe carry them. When Salvatore Genovese, one of the U.K.’s largest chili producers, developed the Komodo Dragon Pepper in 2015, it became the U.K.’s hottest commercially grown pepper. That said, there are several recipes, from marinades to salsas, that use the Komodo Dragon Pepper.
Carolina Reaper (South Carolina)
In 2017, the Guinness Book of World Records named the Carolina Reaper (1.4-2.2 million SHU) the hottest chili pepper in the world, a record that still stands. We can thank Ed Currie (aka Smokin’ Ed) of the South Carolina-based PuckerButt Pepper Company for developing this insanely hot scorcher. Currie developed the Carolina Reaper from a Naja Viper and a red habanero strain. His interest in growing peppers began for health reasons; he noted that communities that frequently consumed spicy peppers tended to have lower rates of cancer and other diseases. (Currie often donates his chilis for cancer research.) One of the world’s sweetest mega-hots, this small red pepper (1.5 to 2 inches) sports a stinger-like tail and resembles a habanero in shape. You can purchase insanely hot sauces that feature the pepper, with names like Reaper Squeezins, Reaper Racha (a Sriracha-like sauce), and the Silencer.