Super-hot chile peppers have intrigued and beguiled humanity for at least 6,000 years. While peppers can be delicious, many folks seem more attracted to the punishing heat and subsequent hot sauces. If you’re the kind of person who sees an erupting volcano and thinks, “I want to put my tongue on that,” then the super-hot peppers on this list are for you. For help identifying the hottest peppers in the world, we reached out to Dr. Paul Bosland, Director of the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University. We could call him Dr. Pepper, but let’s not.
Where Does the Heat Come From?
“The heat in a chile pepper comes from alkaloids called capsaicinoids,” says Dr. Bosland. Environmental conditions and genetics affect how hot a pepper gets, and the spiciness can vary widely from pepper to pepper. It’s believed that chile peppers evolved extreme heat as a defense mechanism from predators. Humans, meanwhile, have evolved to become super-dumb pepper-eaters. Checkmate, peppers.
Chile pepper heat is often measured via the Scoville Organoleptic Test. “In the test, human subjects taste a series of prepared chile samples to determine the heat level,” according to a guide published by the CPI. “The samples are diluted in the laboratory until heat can no longer be detected by the tasters. A single unit of dilution is called a Scoville Heat Unit.” Jalapeños, which represent the limit of heat for some people, have somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 SHUs. “Pure capsaicin, one of the capsaicinoids found in chile peppers, is 16 million Scoville Heat Units,” says Dr. Bosland.
5. Trinidad 7-pot Jonah
At 780,000 SHUs, the Trinidad 7-pot Jonah is said to have enough heat for seven pots of stew. This pepper comes from the Chaguanas region of Trinidad, an island located just off the coast of Venezuela. In fact, most of the world’s super-hot peppers are thought to have originated on Trinidad, then made their way to Europe and Asia during the Columbian Exchange. The Trinidad 7-pot Jonah is about an inch or two long, and typically has a sweet, nutty flavor.
4. Bhut Jolokia
The bhut jolokia, which roughly translates to “ghost pepper,” turns the temperature up to 1 million SHUs. These peppers are usually red or orange in color, and a bit longer than the 7-pot Jonahs. An alternative name for this pepper means “poison” in Assamese, if that gives you any idea of its heat. India, the bhut jolokia’s country of origin, has even incorporated this beastly pepper into non-lethal hand grenades.
3. Trinidad Scorpion
Clocking in at about 1.5 million SHUs, this son of a gun is roughly 230 times hotter than your average jalapeño. This pepper has earned the name “scorpion” because of the stinger-like point at the end. The considerable sting one feels while eating it probably has something to do with the name, too. After taking a bite of the Trinidad Scorpion, you might cool yourself down with a tall glass of real scorpions.
2. Douglah Trinidad Chocolate
Surprise, surprise, another super-hot pepper from Trinidad. This rascal is often grown to have a sweet flavor and a brownish, chocolatey hue. However, its similarities with chocolate end there. With about 1.8 million SHUs, this pepper will blow the roof off of your mouth, and probably your house. Whatever you do, do not give out Douglah Trinidad Chocolates on Halloween.
1. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
At 2 million SHUs, you should finalize your will, kiss your loved ones goodbye, and abandon all hope before you try the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. To give you some perspective, classic red Tabasco Sauce peaks at about 5,000 SHUs, making the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion at least 400 times hotter than the so-called “hot sauce.” The capsaicinoids in this pepper are strong enough to eat through latex gloves — imagine what they can do to your mouth.
If you want to go even hotter, you might try the Carolina Reaper, which was named the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2013. However, the Chili Pepper Institute has not yet confirmed it as the world’s hottest pepper. Still, the Carolina Reaper deserves an honorable mention at the very least.
Dr. Bosland recommends being very careful when eating any of the above peppers. “These chile peppers go well with citrus notes, fish, and tropical fruit,” he says. “One of the best ways to soothe the heat is milk. Milk contains a protein, casein, that counters the capsaicinoids.”