What Are Ghost Peppers?

One of the hottest chiles in the world has found its way into a number of condiments and snacks.

Photo: © Jerry Redfern/LightRocket/Getty Images

Bhut jolokias are having a moment in the spotlight, though you may know them better by their stage name: ghost peppers. Spicy food consumption is on the rise worldwide, and with it comes an appetite for even hotter peppers. Luckily ghost peppers got just ahead of the curve, beating out the likes of those puny habaneros and Scotch bonnets in 2007 when Guinness gave bhut jolokia the title of hottest chile on the planet, making it one of the first of what are known by spicy food enthusiasts as the "superhots." With these spicy little numbers popping up everywhere (even at your local Wendy's drive-thru), here's what you need to know about ghost peppers.

What are ghost peppers?

Bhut jolokia is a small chile typically of a red or orange color and can have bumpy or smooth skin. The peppers are about 2.5-3.5 inches long and 1 inch wide, about the size of your thumb. They are a thinner skin than many chiles, and (unlike jalapeños) contain only half of their capsaicin (the spicy stuff) in the vein or pith and the other half in the actual flesh of the fruit. That means there's no escaping the heat when cooking with these bad boys.

How spicy are ghost peppers?

The chiles' spiciness is rated in Scoville heat units (SHUs). For reference, a bell pepper rates a zero, Tabasco sauce is 2,500-5,000 SHUs, a jalapeño is 3,500-10,000 SHUs, and various habaneros come in at around 100k-350k SHUs. Until the 1980s it was widely accepted that the hottest peppers topped out at about half a million, then along came the bhut jolokia at 1,000,000+ SHUs. It was officially verified and crowned the hottest pepper by Guinness in 2007, and held that title until 2011 when a few more peppers, like the slightly hotter Infinity chile and the current record holder the Carolina Reaper (up to 2 million SHUs), came onto the scene.

What do ghost peppers taste like?

Beyond being really hot, ghost peppers taste like a lot of other peppers you may have tried, though it seems many chile fans prefer the actual taste of the bhut jolokia to others. In a discussion on Reddit, one commenter claims they have a smoky flavor.

Where to find ghost peppers

Bhut jolokia originally hails from India, where it's grown in the states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh. However the increasing worldwide interest in superhots has meant that universities and farmers in many regions have taken to growing ghost peppers for medical research, casual interest, and to make big bucks selling them to anyone who thinks they can stand the heat. Ghost peppers are now widely available in spice shops and at some farmers markets.

How to eat ghost peppers

Very carefully. But seriously, the bhut jolokia is used in pepper sprays, grenades, and as a repellent to keep elephants away from villages. It's used in curries, pickling brine, and chutneys and has made its way into Western hot sauces, tortilla chips, and even candy! Of course, given its intense heat, raw ghost peppers are also a staple of (ill-advised) eating contests.

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