Ghost Pepper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

What are ghost peppers?

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.

Ghost Pepper

Table of Contents

Ghost pepper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)855,000 – 1,041,427
Median heat (SHU)948,214
Jalapeño reference point107 to 417 times hotter
Capsicum speciesChinense
OriginIndia
UseCulinary
Size2 to 3 inches long, pod-like
FlavorSweet, Fruity, Earthy

How hot are ghost peppers?

Let’s frame the ghost pepper against 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 (2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units or SHU). Now multiply the jalapeños heat by up to 400. That’s the potential of ghost pepper (855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU.)

Or compare it to the intense heat of a habanero or scotch bonnet (both 100,000 to 350,000 SHU). It’s four to eight 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 beaten 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).

Though what’s interesting about the ghost’s spiciness is its slow burn. Some super-hots attack the front of your mouth with full force quickly. You know it’s dangerous the minute you bite. The ghost chili plays differently. It’s extremely hot on first bite, but the heat slowly builds, moving to the back of your throat, and lingers for a prolonged time. For some, it can take 15 to 30 minutes to clear the intensity of the heat.

Because of this prolonged extreme heat and formidable name, the ghost pepper 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. Over time, the heat of this pepper will bring out hiccups, intense burning, numbness, eye-watering, and general sweating.

For deeper comparisons on the heat and flavor of the ghost, take a look at our showdowns which compare it to other popular chilies:

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 they look like?

The fruits are pod-like, growing two to three inches in length. The typical Bhut Jolokia 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 takes on a wrinkled, pock-marked texture. Like all super-hots, there’s a danger to the look, like this is not something to be trifled with lightly.

What do ghost peppers taste like?

There is a flavor beyond the extreme spiciness, believe it or not. This chili has 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 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 pepper 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 guide for more information on growing this super-hot chili.

Cooking with ghost peppers

Just like with any super-hot, 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.

We also recommend, understanding how to handle chili burn whenever cooking with ghost peppers (or any super-hot chili.) Chili burn at this level of intensity can be extremely painful, and it can occur even if you’ve taken every precaution above. Read our “jalapeño in eye” post (how to handle chili burn in this sensitive area) — it all holds true for Bhut Jolokia. As well, our general post on treating chili burn is a must precautionary read.

More tips:

  • Remove the pith (the white membrane) to make the ghost pepper milder. Much of the heat in any chili is held in this membrane. Removal of it (often done when removing seeds), helps decrease the overall spiciness. Still, we’re talking about a mighty hot pepper, so still proceed with caution. And the opposite is true: If you want the hottest possible experience from your Bhut Jolokia, leave the membrane intact.
  • Roasting any pepper prior to use tends to make it milder. The roasting removes some of the capsaicin oil from the chili, and that oil isn’t immediately absorbed into other foods (when the Bhut Jolokia is roasted alone.) See our post on Does Cooking Peppers Make Them Hotter?
  • If your Bhut has cracks or stretches on the skin, take extra care on handling. Some handle uncut Bhut Jolokia without gloves (not recommended), but small cracks or stretches can actually be releasing capsaicin oils from the interior of the fruit, making you more susceptible to chili burn.

–> Learn More: Cooking with Ghost Peppers – 7 Must-Follow Rules

What are some other good ghost pepper uses?

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 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.

As a culinary kick-off, try our ghost pepper salsa recipe. 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.

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 stores. 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 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 pepper without compare, arguably the current reigning rock god of among all of the hottest peppers.

  1. Dried Ghost Peppers (10 Per Pack)
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    09/09/2022 12:20 am GMT
  3. Ghost Pepper Seeds (25+ Seeds)
  4. Ghost Pepper Seeds (25+ Seeds)
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    If you have a green thumb and love extreme eats, growing Bhut Jolokia is very possible. These seeds are available via Ohio Heirloom Seeds.

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    09/09/2022 12:20 am GMT

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 20, 2022 to include new content.
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Colin

Even though I’m not some one who usually likes food that spicy I decided to try and grow them this past summer; my preferred heat level is Serrano peppers, I know weak tongue.
I dried mine I like using a pinch of the flakes to make a spicy tea to make spicy noodles with. (Vent your kitchen, I forgot to last time I made it and pepper bombed everyone in the house)

Diswel

I want to know actually at what temperature we can store Ghost pepper and how long its shelf life?

Salient

I grow Ghost pepper every year and I will share this with you: -You don’t need to handle them with gloves unless you chop them or process a hot sauce. Even then, the heat will penetrate your surgical gloves and get into your hands. Avoid rubbing your eyes or genitals, or you will be spending extra time in the shower before opening your eyes. I suggest you put on a fresh pair of surgical gloves when showering. The heat of the pepper will stay in your hands for a few days. -Ghost peppers don’t have long shelf life. Like Habanero… Read more »

Joseph Greene

In Houston we have habaneros and ghost peppers at our brick and mortar! Being Texas we like everything a bit bigger and that goes for heat!