Don’t Fear the Carolina Reaper

nick musica
Published Jan 18, 2021. Read time: 4 mins

Blue Oyster Cult may want us to believe that we shouldn’t fear the reaper – but we’re pretty sure they weren’t talking about the hot pepper.

As the reigning world champion of hottest hot pepper, the chili delivers a devilish amount of heat to the tongue – with a spice so lethal it’d put that other black-robed reaper to shame.

Death-Defying Heat

That’s right, the Carolina Reaper is officially certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest pepper.

So how hot is the Carolina Reaper?

On the Scoville scale, which measures chili pepper spiciness, the reaper clocks in no less than an astounding 2.2 million SHUs, or Scoville heat units. And if that number sounds mind-boggling – it is.

For comparison, the jalapeno pepper that serves as chief tongue-pricker on so many stacks of nachos, pulls in a comparatively paltry 5,000 – 10,000 SHUs. Even other peppers regularly thought of as too hot for most people to handle make up just a fragment of that astronomical total – like the habanero, for example, which weighs in at a still-unbelievably-hot-but-somehow-not-even-close 350,000 Scoville heat units.

The Carolina Reaper even blows away the competition for world’s hottest pepper, with second place currently going to the Komodo Dragon Pepper, which has the capsaicin firepower to come up with around 1.4 million SHUs.

From One Tiny Spark…

It wasn’t always the natural order that landed the Reaper on top. For a long time, the honor of world’s hottest pepper went to the Ghost Pepper of India – a naturally growing variety that regularly clocks just shy of 1.5 million Scoville heat units.

But apparently, “Smokin” Ed Currie wasn’t scared of no ghost.

The South Carolina-based longtime pepper grower developed the deadly Carolina Reaper pepper by crossing a La Soufriere pepper from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent – known for a “nasty” heat – with Pakistan’s Naga Viper pepper.

What came out of that heated alliance was a chili pepper that looks as devilish as its name. Reapers are a fiery hot red, with wrinkled skin and a rounder shape that gives way to a little tail.

But they’re not all heat and no flavor. The Carolina Reaper is actually known to be deliciously fruity – for the first couple of seconds. Just enjoy the fruity flavor while you can, because once that grace period is up and the spice kicks in, it might be a while before you’re really able to taste anything.

Proceed With Caution

Indeed, a fruit containing this much capsaicin – the natural compound that delivers the spicy kick of hot peppers – can have some serious side-effects.

Before even touching a Carolina Reaper, you might be impacted by its insane amounts of heat. It’s not unusual for people, especially those with a capsaicin sensitivity, to experience watery eyes or start sneezing from the smell of the pepper alone.

When actually handling one, it’s typically recommended to wear gloves. And cutting into it releases even more capsaicin, so beware. (Still, it’s not actually the Carolina Reaper seeds that bring the heat, like is widely believed. It’s the small white pith inside the pepper that carries most of the capsaicin.)

Regardless, once the pepper is dealt with, it can be used – with caution! – in a number of recipes, mostly including hot sauces though it’s also been known to make appearances in other fare like stir fries and soup, in sparing amounts, and has even been made into Carolina Reaper chips, for the truly brave.

And anyone daring enough to try a bite or two of the actual fresh pepper should be warned: It’s an event in and of itself that people actually go out of their way to prepare for.

It’s never recommended to eat an entire Carolina Reaper pepper, but if you want to try a (small) bite, you should start by building up your heat tolerance. For the more novice, start with a jalapeno and slowly work your way up the Scoville scale.

Once your tongue is tested, it’s time to prepare for the Reaper itself. Make sure you eat something first, to have something in your stomach to absorb some of the spice. Experts recommend something bland and on the heavier side, like oatmeal.

When it’s time to bite into the pepper, make sure to avoid the seeds and as much pith as possible. Keep your tongue mostly to the skin. And chew as much as you can stand: Bigger chunks of the pepper making their way into your digestive system will wreak more havoc.

You can wash your bite down with a glass of milk – which will work to counteract the heat that should, at this point, be blinding your tongue. Just don’t use water – it will actually make the burn feel worse!

And finally, follow up by thoroughly washing your hands – and wiping off any counter space the pepper may have touched – as the lingering effects of the capsaicin will turn them into human torches.

If you feel any discomfort after eating the pepper, you can use an antacid. But if it’s been over an hour and you’re still in great pain, you might want to seek out more medical treatment.

Just make sure, however you choose to enjoy the pepper, you do it with a healthy amount of fear for the Reaper.


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