The very spicy science behind some of the world's most dangerous peppers.
In the last decade or so, the race to find the hottest pepper in the world has been heating up something fierce. There have been many contenders for the crown, but one chilli remains firmly on top with a verified Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) score of over two million. To put that in perspective, the humble jalapeno can carry a SHU rating of 2,500.
The spiciness of a foodstuff is measured in the Scoville scale and recorded as Scoville Heat Units. This metric was created in 1912 by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville (hence the name) and represents the concentration of a chemical compound called capsaicin, which is responsible for the sensation of spiciness or heat in peppers.
While the amount of capsaicin was previously assessed by a (very brave) panel of taste testers, laboratories now use a process called high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to gain a more objective reading.
With all of that in mind, here is the list of the officially verified hottest chilli peppers in the world. While there are reportedly hotter peppers out there (looking at you, Pepper X, with your alleged SHU of 3,180,000), these measurements haven't yet been confirmed.
We begin this list with the Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper. Long used as a benchmark for spiciness, the naturally growing pepper can be found in West Africa and in the Caribbean. It maxes out at a Scoville rating of 350,000 but is said to begin at 100,000.
Unlike the other peppers on this list, the Scotch Bonnet is not a cultivar or was not developed as a cross-breed between plants. It grows naturally in tropical heat. Often used in Caribbean dishes, the Scotch Bonnet is the most manageable chilli on this list and can be enjoyed without the fuss of the rest. It’s still hot, mind – we don’t recommend you eat them whole unless you’re up for a challenge.
The Red Savina chilli pepper held the record for the world’s hottest chilli between 1994-2006. It maxes out at 577,000 SHU, with a median heat rating of 463,500 Scovilles. It’s hot, but compared to what was to come later, the Red Savina’s heat is a lot more manageable. We’d still recommend you use gloves when preparing the chilli and not rub your eyes.
The Bhut Jolokia – the 'ghost' chilli pepper as it’s better known – is hot. In fact, It’s twice as hot as the Red Savina pepper above. Back in 2006, the Bhut Jolokia was measured as having an average SHU rating of 1,001,304.
The Ghost chilli remained the hottest in the world up until 2011 when the culmination of a chilli-growing arms race took place and the record was broken several times around the world. This isn’t to say that the Ghost chilli isn’t spicy, though, 1 million Scoville units is mighty fiery.
Things really started heating up in 2011. The Infinity Chilli pepper was created in Grantham, Lincolnshire in the UK and was reported to have an average SHU of 1,176,182. It held the record for just a few days.
What do you do with a chilli so hot? Make it into a curry, of course. A restaurant local to the birthplace of the Infinity Chilli put 20 into its course 'The Widower', which was advertised as the world’s hottest curry. By 2016, over 300 people had tried to eat the whole thing and only one man had succeeded, even if he did start hallucinating.
Grown in Trinidad and Tobago, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper has an average SHU rating of 1.2 million. It’s not to be confused with the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper, which is even hotter on average. It’s so spicy that its all-over mouth and throat burn is said to last “at least eight minutes.”
The Naga Viper was briefly the hottest chilli in the world back in 2011 and it carries an average Scoville Heat Unit rating of 1,382,118. Not to be confused with Dorset Naga, the Naga Viper chilli was also grown in the UK.
The second-hottest chilli in the world is the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T. It was awarded the Guinness world record back in March 2011 before eventually losing out to the Carolina Reaper (more on that below). Its officially recognised average SHU rating is 1,463,700.
Cultivated in Australia, the secret to its severe spice could be “liquid runoff from a worm farm” according to Marcel de Wit, creator of the potent pepper. The so-called ‘worm juice’ fertiliser “contains nutrients, plant growth hormones, and promoters” as well as “chitin from dead insects that triggers the plant’s natural defence systems.”
The Carolina Reaper is the hottest chilli pepper in the world with an average Scoville Heat Unit rating of 1,641,183. This is over 650 times more spicey than a jalapeno (with a SHU of 2500).
Confirmed by Guinness World Records in 2017, based on testing at Winthrop University in South Carolina, the official record for the hottest chilli in the world still belongs to the Carolina Reaper to this day.
It was cultivated and grown by chilli farmer Ed Currie in the USA. The Carolina Reaper is so hot that when workers seed it, they wear two layers of gloves because the oils in the pepper eat through the latex.