As with most things in the world, everyone has different tastes. Some people like sweet. Some people like spicy. Some people like things so spicy that they have to cry while gasping uncontrollably for water, or just begging for the pain to end. There’s even a unit of measurement to measure spiciness: Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). The more Scoville Heat Units something is, the hotter it is. To put things in perspective, a common jalapeno pepper is 1,000-10,000 SHU.
If you avoid jalapenos in your food because they’re too spicy, these top ten champs are probably not going to be on your next shopping list Most people are familiar with the more common names, but only a real pepper aficionado will know of the more impressive ones - the peppers that (in some cases) hold Guinness World Records. The list is always changing as new cross-breeds and types of peppers are grown or discovered, but these are the current leaderboard names.
10. The Red Savina Habanero - 500,000 SHU
Developed in California from the parentage of the Caribbean Red habanero, this little doozy is something of an underdog on the current listings, seeing as it is the only one of the top ten here to measure under 1 million on the SHU scale. Though, as you’ll see as you read on, the list is a fluid thing - previous champions have lost the number one spot to newly developed and crossbred strains of pepper, and this little red savina might just come back around and surprise us one day. That said, do not underestimate the red savina - it still outranks a run of the mill jalapeno in heat 50x over.
9. The Seven Pot Red Giant - 1,000,000 SHU
The grand-daddy of the seven pot peppers is still in the list of top ten hottest; this sort of brings to mind one of those procedural crime drama shows where the young buck keeps calling the seasoned vet “old man” but then the “old man” winds up in a fight and beats the stuffing out of someone that the young buck couldn’t handle. The red giant isn’t named because of any notably larger size difference, but more for its reputation. And much like those hunky silver foxes on television, you’ll be fanning yourself if you sink your teeth into one of these peppers.
8. The Seven Pot Barrackpore - 1,000,000 SHU
Like so many in the seven pot family, the barrackpore is wrinkly, bubbly, and breaks one million on the SHU scale. It comes off as very similar to its compatriots in many other ways, such as its fruity-then-screaming-heat flavor. This one is distinct, however, as having been named for its hometown rather than its developer’s name. One might think it was lulling its victim into a false sense of security with a hometown name, like “Sicilian pizza” or “Kentucky Fried Chicken”. But don’t be fooled! Even as number 8 out of the current top 10, this pepper has the potential to melt your face off if not properly handled.
7. The Ghost Pepper - 1,041,427 SHU
Hitting over a million SHU is nothing to take lightly - clearly, this is still a very violently hot pepper - but with more than half the list outranking the ghost pepper on the scale, it’s hard to understand how the pepper (also known as the bhut jolokia) is possibly the best known. The simple fact of the matter is, it’s a celebrity. In the early 2010s, the Ghost Pepper Challenge hit the internet and went viral - thus flinging the Ghost Pepper into the ‘household name’ category. It also has a bit of a bad reputation, having caused approximately 40 pre-teens and teens to wind up hospitalized after trying to take on the challenge. Reportedly it was due to allergic reactions, and not from any deadly quality the pepper possessed in general, but it still probably helped end the viral fad.
6. The Naga Viper - 1,349,000 SHU
Every developed and cross-bred strain of pepper has an origin story, but the Naga Viper gets a special mention for having three parent breeds, and being bred in the UK. It has a slower burn from fruit to hot, and you can catch a whiff of the fruity flavor - if you manage to pause long enough to smell it before eating it in one bite, in an attempt to avoid drawing out the inevitable gasping and fanning of your poor, abused tongue. (What, that isn’t how pepper dares are supposed to go?)
5. The Trinidad Scorpion Butch T - 1,463,700 SHU
Like several other contenders on this list, the Butch T strain of scorpion pepper has held the title of hottest pepper in the world within the last ten years. Similar to the seven pot primo and other supremely hot peppers, the Butch T is sometimes reported as having a sweet start... before your mouth spontaneously combusts. Unlike the ghost pepper, however, the Butch T loses that starting sweetness extremely quickly and shifts to the main event in an impressively short amount of time.
4. The Seven Pot Primo - 1,469,000 SHU
Unlike its other seven pot family members, the primo is notable for its distinct shape. Of all things to make a pepper notable, it never really seemed possible that something this cute could ever be said: the primo has a tail. It is a predominantly round-shaped body, but it doesn’t taper off in the typical way that, say, a jalapeno does. Instead, its diameter sharply shrinks from a round body into a skinny tail. To add to it’s “I’m cute, eat me!” deception, this pepper is also reported as having a fruity or floral taste, before the heat sets in and makes you want to cry.
3. The Seven Pot Douglah - 1,853,936 SHU
The “seven pot” pepper family is so named because it has been said that one pepper could heat seven whole pots of stew. While this amazing little brag is often confirmed by those that have just sampled one, an official cooking of seven pots of stew with one pepper has, to my knowledge, never been attempted. The douglah is also known as the “chocolate” pepper due to its coloring. It’s considered one of the rarest of the “seven pot” family, but frankly, even if it was readily available, it’d still be rare in my house.
2. The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion - 2,009,231 SHU
This very impressive pepper was once the hottest chili pepper - in 2012 it wore the crown with pride. Being bumped to the number two spot is nothing to sneeze at, however; this pepper still reaches numbers the bronze winner still can’t touch by almost 200,000 SHU. Developed in Trinidad, this little monster of a pepper is one of the few peppers to break 2 million on the SHU scale, and as such should be respected for wearing the silver medal of second place.
1. The Carolina Reaper - 2,200,000 SHU
Here we are, at the current heavy-heat champ-belt-wearing hottest pepper in the world. Some of you are probably saying to yourselves "I should go try one of those." Other could be saying (or shouting at the computer screen) “But the Dragon’s Breath pepper is 2.48 million SHU! It’s hotter than this!” And while that is a claim floating around the internet that could potentially be valid, current information shows that Guinness had different recorded results, and the Carolina Reaper came out on top. Let’s call this a Dragon’s Breath honorable mention, and take a moment to remind ourselves that a pepper lower ranked on the SHU scale than this is used in a chili-powder based grenade by the Indian Army.
This is some seriously dangerous heat. Proceed with caution, and - as with any food - try to enjoy!