According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the Butch T Trinidad Scorpion is currently the hottest pepper in the world. It officially replaced the Bhut Jolokia in June of 2011, and the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T is over 460,000 Scoville units hotter than the Bhut Jolokia. Both cultivars of hot peppers are a hybrid Capsicum chinense pepper and Capsicum frutescens. The title of “the world’s hottest pepper” is a much coveted distinction since pepper connoisseurs will go to great lengths to obtain seeds, which are often in short supply.
What is an SHU?
Peppers are rated in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which is test developed by the pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. It measures the amount of capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers hot to the taste. The test is subjective, since it is still relies on humans to taste a precise solution made from the pepper, which leads to much debate whenever it is used. To further complicate matters, the growing condition and the genetic material of the plant strongly affect the heat, so the same cultivar of pepper can get substantially different ratings in different tests.
Many other factors can also influence the actual heat of the pepper. The nutrient level and mineral content of the soil greatly affects how hot a pepper will grow, and in particular a calcium deficiency will cause poor growth as well as fruit quality problems. If the weather is too hot or too cold it, or if the plants suffer from drought conditions, this stresses the plants and can affect how hot the peppers will be. The humidity level of the air is also a determining factor, especially for habaneros.
How Many SHUs are the World’s Hottest Pepper?
Some of the world’s hottest peppers are very popular, while some have only begun to become well known. The SHU is a useful number to decide which peppers to grow. According to Wikipedia, some of the more common peppers and pepper product’s ratings are: (2)
- The pepper spray used by law enforcement rates at 5 to 5.3 million Scoville units.
- The current world record holder is the Butch T Trinidad Scorpion which rated at 1,463,700 SHU in March of 2011. (1)
- Bhut Jolokia held the record of the world’s hottest pepper until June of 2011, and rated at over 1 million SHU. It has many common or popular names such as Ghost Pepper, Ghost Chili, Naga Jolokia, or Naga Morich, or is sometimes spelled Bhot Jolokia.
- The Red Savina habanero was at one time the world record holder, and it reportedly ranked at 577,000 SHU, although this is never confirmed. (3)
- Habanero chilli and Scotch Bonnet peppers rate at 100,000 to 350,000 SHU.
- Tabasco peppers, Chipotle, and cayenne peppers range from 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. S
- Serrano peppers register at 10,000 to 23,000 SHU.
- Jalapenos, Hungarian wax peppers, and Tabasco sauce rate at 3500 to 8000 SHU.
- Anaheim peppers and poblano peppers range from 1000 to 2500 Scoville units.
- Banana peppers, peperoncinis and pimentos range from 100 to 900 SHU.
- Bell peppers such as red peppers have no significant heat.
Although spurges, or euphorbia plants, are not used for food, if they were ranked with the Scoville scale, they would rate at 16 billion. The substance that makes them hot is the alkaloid resiniferatoxin, which is 1000 times as hotter than pure capsaicin.
How to Handle Hot Peppers
Most of the capsaicin for any hot pepper is in the pith and seeds, so removing these will reduce the heat. Care should be taken, including wearing rubber gloves and covering the face, in order to keep the oily capsaicin and its fumes from penetrating skin or being breathed through the nostrils, both of which are quite painful.
Many times disreputable seed suppliers will capitalize on the name of a given hot pepper in order to sell seeds, which the buyer finds out much later were either not the right variety or did not produce peppers with the promised level of heat. Care must be taken to order seeds from a reputable source, since the growing conditions of the peppers used for seeds can determine the quality of the eventual peppers produced.