Most people who like spicy food have limits. For some, the jalapeno offers the perfect balance of heat and flavor. For people on the wilder side, the Habanero offers much higher heat, and a unique flavor to go along with it. And then there are the chiliheads. These are people like Johnny Scoville and Smokin’ Ed Currie. They try the hottest peppers in the world and ask for more.
Wherever you fall on the scale, it is interesting to follow the hottest peppers in the world as more and more varieties come to light. You’ve probably heard of some of the more famous spicy peppers on this list. Others are newer and have yet to be officially placed on the Scoville scale leaderboard. The limits of heat are being pushed every year by growers around the planet, and today we’re rounding up a ranked list of the world’s hottest peppers.
For the purposes of our list, many hot peppers have been omitted. There are countless strains that could have made the list, but the peppers we chose are more commonly available superhot peppers. These choices represent the bigger picture of peppers on the top end of the heat scale. If you would like a more complete list of the hottest peppers (and seeds) see here.
Red Savina Habanero Pepper – 500,000 SHUs
This is by no means the hottest pepper in the world. However, we’re putting it here because you can easily find Habaneros at your local grocery store. This is the baseline, a point of reference to compare to the much hotter peppers that exist. If you have tried a Habanero, you have an idea of how hot the Red Savina is. This extra hot, unique variety of Habanero comes in around 500,000 SHUs. That is roughly twice as hot as a common Habanero, but still relatively tame when compared to the rest of the peppers on this list.
You can get seeds for the Red Savina here. Even this pepper, the least spicy pepper on this list, is far too spicy for most to handle. A prolific producing plant could leave you with 40+ Red Savina Habaneros at the end of the growing season, so be sure you have a plan for what to do with your peppers!
Bhut Jolokia Ghost Pepper – 1,000,000 SHUs
You’ve heard of the Ghost pepper. If you haven’t, you’re probably just coming out from living under a rock. The Ghost pepper was crowned the world’s hottest pepper in 2007, reaching well over 1,000,000 Scoville heat units. On average, the number is lower (around 600,000 SHUs).
At the time, the Ghost pepper seemed absurdly spicy. 2-3x hotter than a typical Habanero (already an intense pepper) seemed out of this world. The internet exploded with “Ghost Pepper Challenge” videos. Anyone crazy enough to try it would pay good money for seeds or whole peppers.
Now, you can find Ghost Peppers for sale in specialty grocery stores in the US. You can easily find seeds for cheap on the internet and try growing them yourself.
However, since 2007, growers have found that by cross-breeding, the upper limits of heat levels weren’t even close to being reached with the Ghost pepper.
7 Pot Brain Strain – 1,350,000 SHUs
Allow me to share a personal experience with the 7 Pot Brain Strain pepper.
I had the lovely opportunity to try a bite of a 7 Pot Brain Strain pepper at Chilifest in Sunderland, MA. They had a table full of superhot peppers for sale, and tiny samples for daring guests to taste.
I ate a small square (roughly 1 cm x 1 cm) from the ‘free samples’ table and had quite a reaction. The explosive heat was shocking from such a small piece of pepper and continued to build in intensity for 5-10 minutes. It was a hot and sunny day outside, but now the real heat was coming from within.
At this point, nothing could help. Not ice cream, not milk, nothing. As the pain eventually subsided, I felt a wonderful ‘euphoria’ that many people claim to feel when eating a really hot pepper. It went from excruciating to enjoyable in a matter of minutes.
All this from a tiny slice of pepper!
This experience was eye-opening to me. It showed just how highly concentrated the capsaicin can be in these next-level superhot peppers.
The New Mexico State University has been testing chili peppers for decades and has shared interesting info on exactly how peppers can get this hot. For peppers with Scoville ratings over 1 million SHUs, it comes down to ‘capsaicin vesicles.’ These are tiny yellow sacs that contain capsaicinoids. They are usually found primarily on the placenta of a typical pepper, like a jalapeno. However, in superhot peppers, they are found almost everywhere. This is why I experienced such intense heat from the 7 Pot Brain Strain pepper.
Trinidad Moruga Scorpion – 2,000,000+ SHUs
Another (temporary) hottest pepper in the world was once the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper. With an average Scoville rating of 1,200,000 SHUs, the Moruga Scorpion easily outshines the Ghost pepper. The hottest individual peppers reached just over 2 million Scoville heat units, meaning that a single Scorpion could be twice as hot as a typical Ghost pepper! Serious heat from a serious-looking pepper.
Watch Rhett & Link try the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion on Good Mythical Morning here. Spoiler: it doesn’t go well.
Carolina Reaper – 2,200,000 SHUs
The current Guinness World Record holder for the world’s hottest pepper is the Carolina Reaper pepper. It showed an average of 1,641,183 SHUs on the Scoville scale, with individual peppers reading over 2,500,000 SHUs! The Carolina Reaper was bred by Smokin’ Ed Currie of the Puckerbutt Pepper Company. He is known for breeding peppers and making hot sauces, obsessed with making hotter and hotter varieties.
Controvery Corner: The history of the Carolina Reaper is not without controversy. Troy Primo of Primo’s Peppers bred the 7-Pot Primo variety from Trinidad Capsicum Chinense peppers. The Primo pepper is a strikingly similar pepper to the reaper. It is also rumored that Smokin’ Ed received early seeds from the stabilized Primo pepper plants. Could it be that the reaper is just a 7-Pot Primo with a different name? No one is sure, but either way, the Carolina Reaper is the name people know and recognize.
The reaper is also said to be far less stable in terms of pod shape and size while the 7-Pot Primo has rock-solid consistency. Troy Primo also worked at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Horticulture Department, giving him some serious credentials in plant breeding.
The Carolina Reaper is now easily accessible and can be grown by home gardeners. Though seeds can be stubborn to germinate, and the plants require an exceptionally long growing season, you can grow your own Reapers in a pot on your porch. However, before you go and grow the (official) world’s hottest pepper, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into! Try some hot sauces that use this pepper to get an idea of just how hot peppers can get.
Dragon’s Breath – 2,480,000 SHUs
Bred by a farmer in Wales, the Dragon’s Breath pepper was originally meant to be used as a topical anesthetic, not as a food. The initial findings show Scoville ratings of just under 2,500,000 SHUs, trouncing the Carolina Reaper by almost 300,000 SHUs. This means that eating an equally large Dragon’s Breath pepper would be like eating a highly spicy Carolina Reaper and a Habanero. Yikes.
There has been speculation that this pepper is just an overwintered Carolina Reaper pepper plant with smaller pods. Testing has been limited and there hasn’t been much research to confirm this as a new variety or a consistent pepper.
We’re including this pepper on the list despite it not having an official status on the records. We assume that, through testing and stabilization, the Dragon’s Breath pepper will find its way onto the record boards, but for now we can just agree that this small pepper packs a serious punch!
Pepper X – 3,000,000+ SHUs
It almost seemed like Smokin’ Ed Currie was just waiting for someone to challenge his infamous Carolina Reaper for the top spot. Almost immediately following news about the Dragon’s Breath pepper, Hot Ones and Puckerbutt Pepper Company collaborated to create a new hot sauce called The Last Dab Reduxx. In it, the elusive Pepper X Pepper was the first ingredient.
Although the Carolina Reaper is the current world record holder, a new king is expected to take that spot in 2020. We’ve tried it in the Last Dab, and it’s hot. But it is hard to tell if it is truly Carolina Reaper hot. The heat kicks hard, but in the Last Dab it seems less violent and harsh than eating a straight pepper. Once we can get our hands on a fresh pepper, we will be sure to write all about the experience on PepperGeek.
Plant breeding takes a long time. The Pepper X Pepper has likely been in development for years, and only when a consistent, stabilized pepper has been reached can this be made an official record holder. Apparently, Smokin’ Ed Currie is sitting on a stockpile of even hotter peppers, waiting for the right time to share his creations with the public. Pepper X is the first of these pepper varieties to come to light, though he has hinted at some of his peppers eclipsing the 4,000,000 SHU mark.
As pepper breeders around the world continue to grow hotter peppers, PepperGeeks will be eager and ready to try them. Right now, you might be asking, “Why?” What is the point of eating intolerably spicy food? Some people do it for the endorphin rush that gives a unique spicy pepper high (we agree). Some people simply want to know how much pain they can tolerate. No matter your reason, we understand the drive, and we look forward to more!
Learn more about the Habanero pepper here (the perfect level of heat).