The ghost pepper (also known as bhut jolokia) is a super-spicy pepper that originated in India. Although this pepper has been around for centuries, the western world was first introduced to the ghost pepper in 2000. At first, this pepper tastes smoky, almost sweet. But wait thirty or forty seconds—the intense heat sneaks up on you like a ghost.
Ghost Pepper Colors and Varieties at a Glance
Usually, ghost peppers are around three inches long and about one inch wide. The peppers are shaped like a cone with a spherical top and pointed bottom, covered in thin, bumpy skin. The most common color for ripe ghost peppers is red. But they also come in yellow, orange, white, brown (chocolate), peach, and even purple.
- Red ghost peppers, the most well-known variety, are extremely spicy.
- Yellow ghost peppers are not quite as spicy as the red, but they’re otherwise very similar.
- Orange ghost peppers are a smaller variation of the bhut jolokia. They are a favorite for hot sauce. They are also a bigger ghost pepper, typically four to six inches long.
- White ghost peppers have more of an off-white almost yellow color with smooth skin. They have a similar taste to most traditional ghost peppers, but with some citrus flavor.
- Brown ghost peppers (known as chocolate ghost peppers) have a more pungent scent. Although these are as hot as the red ghost pepper, you’ll taste some sweetness in them as well.
- Peach-colored ghost peppers have the same spice level as the red, but there is more of a fruity aftertaste.
- Purple-colored ghost peppers are the smallest of the varieties. These are also milder than the traditional red ghost pepper.
How to Grow Ghost Peppers
Ghost peppers grow best in hot, sunny environments with soil that’s at least eighty degrees Fahrenheit. The soil temperature should be consistent—never above ninety or below eighty degrees. Raised garden beds can help keep the soil extra hot. This need for intense heat is one major reason why bhut jolokia grow so well in India’s tropical climate. At Sonoran Spice, we grow our ghost peppers in Assam, India. This area has a lengthy warm season, which keeps the ghost peppers warm in their four to six-month growing period.
Want to grow your own? Ghost peppers should be planted in well-drained soil. Each plant should be two to three feet apart to give them plenty of room to grow. You can grow ghost pepper plants in containers as long as they hold at least three to five gallons. At full size, the pepper plants should be about four feet tall.
You should water your plants about twice a week if they aren’t getting much rainwater, but be careful not to overwater. Only water when you can feel that the two top inches of soil are dry. Fertilizer that’s high in potassium and low in nitrogen can aid in ghost pepper growth. Sometimes spraying Epsom salts on your plants can also help prevent magnesium deficiency.
Health Benefits of Ghost Peppers
Ghost peppers are rich in vitamins, especially vitamins C and D. Although it may surprise you, spicy foods like ghost peppers can actually help your digestive tract. They help to decrease the acid that can lead to ulcers and settle an upset stomach. Ghost peppers may be able to jumpstart your metabolism, which can make losing weight easier. If you struggle with allergies, the anti-inflammatory properties of hot peppers can decrease those symptoms. Ghost peppers can also reportedly help strengthen your immune system. This makes it easier for your body to fight off cold and flu viruses. Peppers can also be a natural decongestant and antioxidant. This can potentially lower your risk of cancer and improve your heart health.
Ghost Peppers and the Scoville Scale
The ghost pepper is extremely hot. In the world of peppers, this hotness is measured based on the Scoville scale. The more Scoville heat units (SHU) that a pepper has, the spicier it is. For example, the bell pepper has zero SHU, while jalapeño and chipotle peppers measure 10,000 SHU each. The ghost pepper measures a whopping 1,041,427 SHU! Individual ghost peppers may measure more or less SHU, but this is the widely-accepted average. The ghost pepper was the very first pepper to measure over a million SHU.
Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist, invented the Scoville scale back in 1912 to measure the heat of some of his favorite spicy foods. The scale he designed measured the concentration of capsaicin in each pepper. Capsaicin is what gives you the burning sensation while you are eating a spicy pepper like the ghost pepper. Essentially, it’s the same as if you were eating burning hot food with a temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). People can build a tolerance to capsaicin and will eventually need to eat food with a higher amount of it to feel the burning sensation. With modern technology, SHU can now also be measured using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).
To determine the SHU of a pepper, a scientist must first extract some of the capsaicin oil from the pepper. A group of panelists who have a working knowledge of the Scoville scale must be present to test this oil. They dilute the pepper oil with sugar water. After each dilution of sugar water, the panelists taste the pepper oil. They continue to taste until the majority of testers can no longer taste any heat. The SHU measures how many times the testers needed to dilute the oil of a particular pepper until they could no longer feel the sensation of capsaicin burning. This means the panelists had to dilute ghost pepper oil with sugar water over a million times before the burning sensation ceased! Because the scale is based on an individual’s tolerance for heat, the test is subjective. Despite this, it is still the most widely-recognized method for measuring the heat of different chili peppers.
Although many people believe that the ghost pepper is the world’s hottest pepper, that is not the case. It was named the World’s Hottest Pepper in 2007 and held that title for four years. Now, several peppers have been discovered that are even hotter. The Carolina Reaper is considered the World’s Hottest Pepper currently, measuring 2,200,00 SHU—that’s more than twice as hot as the ghost pepper. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion comes in second, usually measuring a little over 2 million SHU. Other hot peppers that rank high in SHU, ahead of the ghost pepper, include the following:
- 7 Pot Douglah (approximately 1,900,000 SHU)
- 7 Pot Primo (approximately 1,500,000 SHU)
- Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” (also about 1,500,000)
- Komodo Dragon (approximately 1,400,000 SHU)
- Niga Viper (approximately 1,300,000 SHU)
- 7 Pot Barrackpore (also about 1,300,000 SHU)
- 7 Pot Jonah (approximately 1,200,000 SHU)
- 7 Pot Infinity (approximately 1,200,000 SHU)
- Bedfordshire Super Naga (approximately 1,100,000 SHU)
The Popularity of Ghost Peppers Over Time
Health Benefits: https://www.ghostfoods.com/about/ghost-peppers/health-history/
The Ghost Pepper: Taste All the Colors of the Rainbow: http://growhotpeppers.com/ghost-pepper-colors/
The Ghost Pepper Planting Guide: A to Zing: https://www.pepperscale.com/ghost-pepper-planting/
Cayenne Pepper Benefits Your Gut, Heart & Beyond – Christine Ruggeri, CHHC May 27, 2018 http://draxe.com/cayenneof-pepper-benefits/
Scoville Scale: https://www.pepperseeds.eu/scoville/
The Scoville Heat Scale: https://www.chilliworld.com/factfile/scoville-scale