The ghost pepper is one of the most notoriously spicy peppers on the planet. It is a result of ancient plant breeding, and is a cross between capsicum chinense and capsicum fructescens.
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In This Article:
- What is a ghost pepper
- Ghost pepper plants
- Ghost pepper scoville scale
- Ghost pepper varieties
- Growing ghost peppers
- When to pick ghost peppers
- Where to buy fresh ghost peppers
- Ghost pepper uses
- Ghost pepper cure
What Is A Ghost Pepper
The ghost pepper, or bhut jolokia, is a pepper variety discovered in India. It is thought to be a capsicum chinense variety that was at some point likely crossed with a capsicum frutescens variety. It is now well known for its intense heat and unique, wrinkly shape.
Where Is The Ghost Pepper From?
All capsicum chinense varieties originated in South America and across the West Indies. One of the oldest peppers was found over 6,000 years ago, fully preserved in a cave in Peru. The ghost pepper is thought to have origins in Trinidad, making its way to Assam and Nagaland, India by way of travel or by local plant breeding.
In India, the ghost pepper was cultivated by local hands and still grows naturally in Northeastern India. Though the exact origins are unknown, this is the most likely course of events for the ghost pepper.
Fun fact: Naga means ‘Serpent’ in Sanskrit. Many ghost pepper varieties are named after Nagaland, India, where the peppers grow naturally.
We are happy that the pepper was discovered and seeds are now widely available across the globe for home growers!
Ghost Pepper Plants
Like most pepper varieties, ghost pepper plants are fairly easy to grow and the pods are highly resistant to pests. We recommend buying seeds online and growing them yourself. However, there are ways to buy live plants as well.
Ghost Pepper Plant Features
All ghost pepper plant varieties have large, broad leaves and a full canopy. Flowers are small to medium in size, and are white. Ghost pepper plants are also highly productive under ideal growing conditions.
Pruning is optional for ghost pepper plants, though we recommend at least bottom pruning to protect against soil borne pathogens. All ghost varieties are slow to mature, so we recommend starting seeds very early indoors.
Ghost pepper plants plants typically take 100+ days after transplanting to produce ripened pepper pods!
Given enough soil, light and fertilizer, ghost peppers will grow to about 2-3 feet tall in a single season.
Where To Buy Ghost Pepper Plants
If you want to grow ghost peppers at home, you can either start from seed, or you can simply buy live plants online. Ghost pepper plants are not a huge demand, so you likely won’t find them at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Try calling your local nurseries to see if they sell ghost pepper plant starts. Many gardening centers cater to the local demand, so if you call asking, they might grow them next year!
Ghost Pepper Scoville Scale
A common question regarding the ghost chili is how spicy it is. Where does the ghost pepper stack up on the Scoville Scale?
When compared to a common hot pepper, say a jalapeno, it isn’t even close.
1 ghost pepper is equivalent in spiciness to about 125 jalapeno peppers.
Put simply, the ghost pepper comes in at approximately 1,000,000 SHUs on the Scoville Scale. This was enough to hold the Guinness World Record for the world’s hottest chili pepper for about 4 years from 2007 to 2011.
Since it has been dethroned, the ghost pepper seems tame compared to the newcomers. However, don’t be fooled. The ghost pepper is still an extremely spicy pepper variety, and will give almost anyone a run for their money!
Different Ghost Pepper Colors
One of the great things about modern plant breeding is the resulting variety. There are ghost peppers of all different colors and sizes. Bhut Jolokia peppers are always super spicy. However, darker colored pods are usually hotter, while lighter colors are less spicy.
Peach Ghost Pepper
Behind the peachy exterior of this bhut jolokia variety is a serious punch. Similarly spicy to the original pepper, the peach ghost pepper is no joke.
We love growing this variety as the ripe pods add a beautiful color to our pepper garden.
Yellow Naga Ghost Pepper
Chocolate Ghost Pepper
This ghost pepper has a much more sinister look, and a truly scorching heat level. The chocolate, or brown bhut jolokia pepper is a monster!
Note: This is the spiciest ghost pepper color variety we have tried to date!
Once again, we had relatively early ripening from these plants. A great, bizarre look in the garden, and perfect for making extra-spicy foods.
Growing Ghost Peppers
Growing ghost peppers is similar to growing other varieties. We have written full grow guides for other varieties for anyone looking to grow peppers. Surprisingly, ghost peppers are one of the easiest hot peppers to grow.
However, there are a few things to know specifically about growing ghost peppers.
Some things to keep in mind about ghost peppers:
- Seeds take longer to germinate. Ghost pepper seeds (and other super hot varieties) are know for being very stubborn to germinate. They can take weeks, sometimes up to one month to sprout.
- We highly recommend bottom heating with a seed mat.
- Growing season is longer. Some early pepper varieties can take as little as 75 days to have mature pods. Ghost peppers will need at least 100 days from the day of transplanting to produce ripe peppers.
- Beware of handling the pods. While the outer skin of a ghost pepper does not contain capsaicin, a small crack can let out a ton of it. We recommend using latex gloves whenever you plan to handle the fresh peppers (especially when slicing them).
When To Pick Ghost Peppers
Knowing when to pick your ghost peppers is usually very easy. As is the case with all pepper varieties, they will change color when fully ripened.
Unlike jalapenos or banana peppers, ghost peppers are almost always picked when fully ripe. Put simply, pick ghost peppers when they change in color from green to bright red (or whatever color variety you are growing). The change in color is obvious and will usually take just a few days once the peppers begin to turn.
Signs of ripe ghost peppers:
- Change in color
- Mature size
How to pick ghost peppers
Our method for harvesting peppers is a simple one. Remove the peppers with your hands, careful not to damage the plant. We find that an upwards motion works well to get a clean ‘pop’ as the pepper is removed.
Another option for harvesting ghost peppers is to use sharp scissors or pruning shears. Simply cut the pepper’s stem about halfway up, being careful not to nick the plant’s branches or leaves.
Where To Buy Ghost Peppers
Not looking to grow ghost peppers yourself, but still want some? You’ve still got options.
Thanks to the huge boom in popularity of spicy food, the ghost pepper is famous. That means you may start seeing fresh bhut jolokia peppers for sale in stores.
We have personally seen them for sale (when in season) at Whole Foods Market. You can also buy fresh ghost peppers online from individual growers.
Ghost Pepper Uses
Ready to start using some ghost peppers from the garden? These versatile spicy peppers can be used in a number of ways. You can preserve them for later use, use them fresh, dehydrate them for spicy pepper powder, and even save the seeds to grow again next year.
Warning: Always take precautions when slicing or cooking with ghost peppers. Wear gloves, eye protection, and respiratory protection. You’ll thank us later!
Make Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce
We sure do love making homemade hot sauce. You get a ton of sauce for your hard work, and it is a wonderful preservation method.
Using a simple preparation of peppers, vinegar, salt and any other fruits and spices, you can blend up your very own sauce. Just be sure to use at least 2% salt, and around 50% vinegar.
Oh, and go easy on the ghost peppers (try using some jalapenos to decrease the heat level).
Tip: We love using fresh fruits, especially pineapple or blueberries, in our sauces. Get creative!
Make Ghost Pepper Salsa
Making a super-spicy ghost pepper salsa is a great way to use a few ghost peppers. Similar to hot sauce, this vinegar, tomato and onion based dip is a classic. Usually made with jalapenos, salsa is begging to be made spicier.
Put Them In Some Chili
You’ll want to be careful not to overdo this, but you can try making some ghost pepper chili. Throw a half of a pepper, finely chopped, into your next batch of chili to kick things up.
Dehydrate Ghost Peppers
We love dehydrating foods, especially peppers. This is a great option if you want to save your peppers for later, or create a spicy pepper powder.
Slice your bhut jolokia peppers in half lengthwise before dehydrating. These peppers are thin, so they should dehydrate in around 8-10 hours at 125°F (in a proper food dehydrator).
Saving Ghost Pepper Seeds
Saving pepper seeds is always worth the extra effort. Seeds will stay viable for years if stored properly, meaning you can re-grow your favorites in the future.
We wrote a detailed guide on saving pepper seeds here.
How to save ghost pepper seeds:
- Use fully ripe ghost peppers
- Slice off the very end (not the stem end)
- Roll the pepper between your fingers, seeds should drop out of the opening
- Slice pepper lengthwise
- Remove remaining seeds with a spoon
- Dry seeds on a plate for several days
- Store in an airtight container
Ghost Pepper Relief and Cure
If you are new to spicy food, and happen to try a ghost pepper, you’ll likely need some relief from the pain.
The quickest relief: Milk.
If you have any dairy milk in the fridge, go for that first. It offers the quickest and best relief from any type of chili pepper burn.
If you got some of the ghost pepper oils on your hands, milk is still the best help. However, we also recommend washing your hands thoroughly (even under the nails) with dish soap. The detergent in the soap helps emulsify and remove the pepper juices.
Read More: Cures for hot pepper hands/eyes
Can A Ghost Pepper Kill You?
While eating capsaicin is not toxic, it can cause adverse reactions in some people.
There have been cases of people vomiting aggressively after eating ghost peppers, leading to potential throat rupture. Though the pepper itself is not fatal when eaten, the reaction in some people may be.
Know what you are eating, first!
If you have never tried a highly spicy pepper, we don’t recommend eating ghost peppers. Work your way up from less spicy varieties like jalapenos and serranos.
I hope this article helped you learn a few new things about ghost peppers. They are a pepper to respect and use in moderation. Happy growing!