Ghost Peppers 101: Your Complete Guide

| Last Updated: November 5, 2019 |

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A super-fiery pepper with a hot following…

Ghost pepper fast facts:

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 855,000 – 1,041,427
  • Median heat (SHU): 948,214
  • Origin: India
  • Capsicum species: Chinense
  • Jalapeño reference point: 107 to 417 times hotter
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: 2 to 3 inches long, pod-like
  • Flavor: Sweet, fruity, earthy
  • Ghost pepper pop quiz: Coming soon!

What do you get when you mix a nearly unsurpassable heat with a rock star name? You get a hot pepper of legend. That’s what you have with the ghost pepper, otherwise known as Bhut Jolokia. This is the bad boy of the chili world, weighing in from 855,000 Scoville heat units to an eye-popping 1,041,427 SHU! It’s one of the hottest peppers in the world and a one-time Guinness Book of World Records champ.

How spicy are ghost peppers?

Well, let’s talk about our jalapeño reference point. Many people feel the jalapeño is rather hot, but in the world of the Scoville scale, it’s a relatively mild to medium chili pepper. Now multiply that heat by up to 400. That’s the potential of a ghost pepper.

Or compare it to the intense heat of a habanero or scotch bonnet. It’s 4 to 8 times spicier than those hot chilies. It’s so spicy that the Indian army has made it into military grade smoke bombs and local residents smear the ghost pepper on fences and walls to keep wild elephants from entering certain areas.

It seems those elephants know something maybe we humans don’t because the Bhut Jolokia has attracted a lot of attention among us with its fabulous heat. It held the crown with the Guinness Book of World Records, until it was beat out by the intense Butch T Scorpion for the official title and then by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion as the unofficial overall heat winner. Both of those were taken over in 2013 by the Carolina Reaper.

So, yes, the Bhut Jolokia is a super-hot pepper, but it’s nowhere near the heat of the most intense super-hots around. Both the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and the Carolina Reaper can be easily twice as hot (and the Reaper at its hottest verges on three times hotter than the mildest ghost pepper).

They are so hot that precautions should be taken when handling

Ghost peppers are so spicy that special precautions should be taken in their handling. Wear gloves, at minimum to keep significant chili burn at bay. But if you’re sensitive to capsaicin (the compound that gives chilies their heat), then we recommend wearing eye goggles and even a face mask when handling the Bhut Jolokia.

For deeper comparisons, take a look at our showdowns which compare it to other popular chilies:

How do people eat something this spicy?

Very carefully. And sometimes not so carefully. In fact, the Bhut Jolokia has become something of a legend in chili pepper eating dares. Many popular YouTube videos have been shot of people downing a raw Bhut Jolokia in a few quick bites. And then the body’s responses begin. The heat of this pepper will bring out hiccups, intense burning, numbness, eye watering, and general sweating.

Where does the name ghost pepper come from?

The name ghost pepper simply comes from the chili’s official Indian name, the Bhut Jolokia. Bhut in Indian means “ghost”. There are many variations on this name: ghost chili, Bhoot Jolokia, Naga Bhut Jolokia, Red Naga chili and more. In fact, in India the name for this chili differs from region to region. But we can all agree that in English, ghost pepper fits just perfectly − it scares the pants off of your taste buds.

What do ghost peppers look like?

The fruits are pod-like, growing two to three inches in length. The typical ghost pepper ages from green to red, like most hot peppers. The pods themselves taper to a point – not as pronounced as the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’s tail, but it’s there. And like other super-hots the skin tends takes on a wrinkled, pock-marked texture.

What do ghost peppers taste like?

There is a flavor beyond the extreme spiciness, believe it or not. Ghost peppers have a slow-building heat, so you experience the flavor (for at least a few seconds) before the hammer drops. They have a sweet, fruity flavor typical of many super-hot peppers, but underneath it is a light smokiness as well.

Of course, that all disappears once the heat builds (and lasts). At the end, the predominant take-away of ghost pepper flavor will be very painful spiciness that can last for 15 minutes or more.

Are ghost peppers healthy?

They are quite nutritious, like all hot peppers. But there’s a big catch. Because of their extreme heat, you eat less ghost pepper than other chilies in a sitting. This means you only get a fraction of the benefits compared to a chili like the very eatable jalapeño. See our ghost pepper nutrition post to get a full breakdown.

Can you grow them at home?

You can! If you have a green thumb and a taste for the extreme, take a look at our ghost pepper planting article for more information on growing this super-hot chili.

What are some good uses for this hot pepper?

Yes, the Bhut Jolokia sits among the hottest peppers in the world, but that’s not to say that you can’t do amazing culinary things when cooking with ghost peppers. Some of the most popular hot sauces in the world feature the Bhut Jolokia as the main hot pepper ingredient, and they are scorching and very tasty.

It’s also used to add intense heat to Indian, Mexican, and Tex-Mex dishes. Even popular fast food restaurants have bought into the hype. Red Robin, for instance, released two burgers to its menu with ghost pepper sauces. But in real-world tasting, those sauces come nowhere near the true heat of the Bhut Jolokia − they’re still tasty nonetheless!

It’s a chili that’s very popular during summer time, as the intense heat forces you to perspire which ultimately cools the body down. If you are adventurous, you can work with these peppers in raw and dried form into salsas, sauces, and more. Remember, wear gloves, though, when handling. If you’ve experienced jalapeño in the eyes from rubbing your fingers there, that’s child’s play compared to ghost pepper in the eye.

Enjoy! Our homemade ghost pepper salsa recipe is big heat.

ghost pepper salsa

This is one extreme salsa, so maker beware, But if you love extreme eats, this salsa kicks. We keep it simple on ingredients to allow the Bhut Jolokia flavor to come through.

Get the recipe.

Where can you buy ghost peppers?

Chances are, you won’t find this extreme pepper in any brick and mortar store near you. This is a chili pepper with a big following, but it’s not a mainstream cooking pepper like the habanero and jalapeño. You can find the ghost, though, in online store. There, you’ll even find seeds and plants if you have a green thumb, as well as many extreme ghost pepper hot sauces that you can try. We also sell ghost pepper powder in our Spicery for those that want the heat of the ghost with the convenience of a powder.

Wherever and whatever you buy, go into eating the ghost pepper with eyes open. This is no chili to trifle with. Its heat will smack you around and then come back for more. But if you’re a true chilihead and love all things spicy, then this is a chili without compare, arguably the current reigning rock god of among all of the hottest peppers.

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