The title of the hottest pepper in the world is one that changes hands often. When one ultra-spicy chili gets famous, that just inspires other competitors to create one that’s even hotter.
Gone are the days when naturally growing chilies could claim to be the hottest – these days, the chilies that compete for the spiciness crown are carefully grown by cross-breeding different kinds of chili that are already dangerously hot.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the very hottest chilis ever, including the current holder of the throne. But before we get into them, a quick note about spiciness.
What Makes Food Spicy?
Now that’s a good question! The answer is a chemical called capsaicin, which is found in all chili peppers. This chemical is the one that causes that hot, burning feeling that you get when you eat anything spicy. Interestingly, it actually evolved as a defense mechanism for the chili plants.
Their seeds are mostly dispersed by birds, who eat the chilis and later poop the seeds out far away. The capsaicin is intended to prevent mammals (like humans, rats, etc.) from eating chilis.
While it does that by giving us that burning feeling, it does not have this effect on birds, allowing them to eat the chilis with no problems.
Capsaicin can be found all throughout the flesh of chilis, but the highest concentration is in the white pith where the seeds are attached.
Contrary to popular belief, the seeds themselves do not contain any capsaicin and are not spicy by themselves.
How Do We Measure Spice?
Another good question. The way we usually measure spice is with the Scoville scale. This assigns a number rating to any chili in Scoville Heat Units. The higher the number, the spicier the pepper.
For example, jalapeños clock in at around 4,000 to 8,500 on the Scoville scale. The weaker banana peppers are at a maximum of 500, while the stronger cayenne pepper can reach around 50,000.
Peppers that are usually considered pretty darn hot like the habanero and scotch bonnet can reach up to around 350,000, but the peppers we’re about to see go a very long way past that.
The Hottest Peppers In The World
To an extent, it’s quite controversial as to which pepper deserves the title of the world’s hottest. Measuring just one pepper isn’t enough to confirm the heat level since that could just be an outlier.
Tests of multiple crops are usually necessary to make things official. With all that being said, there are currently three different chilies with a claim to the title.
One of these is the official record holder while the other two are ones whose creator’s claims are hotter, though this hasn’t yet been officially recognized by Guinness World Records. We’ll go over all three of them now.
The Carolina Reaper, bred by Ed Currie, is the official record holder for the hottest chili pepper in existence. It officially earned this title in 2013, when it displaced the previous record holder, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T.
This firebomb of a pepper averages 1,641,183 on the Scoville scale, making it far hotter than any of the peppers you’re likely to see in your local grocery store.
Yep, you read that right, and it’s just the average! Individual peppers in the tested batch got up to as high as 2.2 million SHU!
This pepper was created by crossbreeding a La Soufriere pepper from St Vincent, an island in the Caribbean, with Naga Viper chili from Pakistan.
It gets the name “reaper” from its shape, which features a devilishly spiky “tail” at the bottom. Aside from the intense heat, it has a fruity flavor to it as well, though you can expect this to be buried in spice pretty quickly.
You can also consume the Carolina Reaper in the form of a hot sauce if you like.
As we said, the Carolina Reaper is the official record holder. However, kings always have to contend with pretenders to the throne. The first pepper to take on the reaper is called Dragon’s Breath.
It’s been tested at 2.48 million Scoville units, a score that puts it well above even the hottest Carolina Reapers. Interestingly, this pepper wasn’t originally intended for adding fire to food.
It was developed as part of an effort to develop a topical anesthetic, with the idea that the pepper’s intense heat would be able to numb the skin.
It was later grown by a Welshman, Mike Smith, who said that he was only trying to grow a nice-looking chili plant, irrespective of heat.
The name Dragon’s Breath was later chosen as a reference to the symbol of Wales, the dragon, given Smith’s nationality.
Pepper X is another creation of Ed Currie’s, and he claims that it’s even hotter than either the Carolina Reaper or Dragon’s Breath. It’s been measured at an unbelievable 3.18 million Scoville units, far surpassing the other two chilies on this list.
However, like the Dragon’s Breath chili, this hasn’t been officially confirmed by Guinness World Records. Currie says that this dynamite chili took over 10 years to cultivate.
You might have seen the web series Hot Ones, in which guests eat increasingly spicy chicken wings. The sauce used on the last, spiciest wings are made from Pepper X, so if you want to see what it looks like when someone eats 3.18 million Scovilles, you know where to go.
So, there you have it: the three contenders for the position of hottest chili in the world.
Since the Carolina Reaper took the crown in 2013 and the two pretenders both staked their claims in 2017, it’s a fair bet that it won’t be too long before another would-be king comes to take a shot at the title.
For the time being, though, there’s plenty of spice to go around in these three. Any meal that involves them is going to be interesting, to say the least!