7 of the Hottest Peppers in the World

By: Dylan Ris  | 
a variety of hot peppers
If you love hot peppers, you're always on the lookout for hotter ones. taboga/Shutterstock

Our tolerance for spicy food runs the gamut. Some of us taste a serrano pepper slice and run for a fire extinguisher. Others would happily drink a full bottle of hot sauce if table decorum allowed it. In fact, some people are so committed to capsaicin (the substance that makes food taste spicy) that they scour restaurants and grocery stores in search of the world's hottest chili peppers.

Capsaicin is a chemical irritant naturally found in fresh peppers. It's responsible for the insane heat level that we may experience when consuming the world's spiciest peppers and hottest hot sauces. In addition to powering spicy foods, capsaicin has been shown to offer health benefits, particularly when used to treat pain or itching. Research also suggests it may alter the expression of genes that would otherwise cause cancer. As such, there may be true value to eating the spiciest peppers in the world, assuming your stomach can take the heat.


But what is the hottest pepper in the world? To determine that, we first need to understand what defines "hot."

Measuring Heat with the Scoville Scale

The heat of a pepper is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). This name comes from an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville, who created a scale that describes how much a pepper must be diluted in order to no longer taste spicy to a person. For instance, a pepper rated 1,000 Scoville heat units would need to be diluted with 1,000 equal units of water in order to no longer taste spicy.

In terms of spicy peppers, 1,000 Scoville units is actually pretty low. Even a jalapeño is 2,000 to 8,000 SHUs. Super hot peppers can top 1 million Scoville heat units or more. Here are seven of the hottest peppers known to humankind, based on the Scoville scale, ranked in order of increasing spiciness. Our list features peppers whose hotness has been independently confirmed.


7. Scotch Bonnet Pepper (350,000 SHUs)

Scotch bonnet peppers
Scotch bonnet peppers get their name from their resemblance to traditional Scottish headwear. Chiyacat/Shutterstock

Also known as Bonney peppers or Caribbean red peppers, Scotch bonnet peppers take their name from their visual resemblance to a Scottish tam o'shanter cap. They are close cousins of the habanero pepper and about equally spicy. Scotch bonnets grow abundantly in tropical South America, West Africa and the Caribbean. This makes them a popular choice if you're doing some Caribbean cooking and want to impart authentic flavor. Before the 1990s, the Scotch bonnet was one of only two peppers to measure above 350,000 SHUs. (The other was the habanero.)


6. Red Savina Pepper (350,000 - 575,000 SHUs)

The red Savina is a cultivar of the well-known habanero pepper. Frank Garcia of GNS Spices developed it in California while intending to make a larger, spicier version of a habanero. Garcia noticed that one habanero pepper in this field of orange peppers was red and decided to breed it. Between 1994 and 2006, Guinness World Records ranked the red Savina as the hottest pepper in the world. Its taste is similar to a habanero or Scotch bonnet — just a whole lot hotter.


5. Bhut Jolokia (Ghost) Pepper (1,001,304 SHUs)

Bhut Jolokia
The Bhut Jolokia is known as the ghost pepper in the U.S. swa182/Shutterstock

Known as the ghost pepper in the United States, the Bhut Jolokia comes from northeast India. Its name translates to "Bhutanese pepper." This naturally occurring pepper is routinely consumed in neighboring Bhutan, a country sometimes heralded as having the world's spiciest cuisine. The ghost pepper is twice as spicy as the red Savina and took over its Guinness title of "world's hottest pepper" in 2006.

Seeds from ghost peppers were sent from India to New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute in 2001, where it took some years to grow and test. NMSU professor Paul Bosland said he wasn't sure why the Bhut Jolokia was nicknamed the ghost pepper, but maybe "it's because the chili is so hot, you give up the ghost when you eat it!"


4. Naga Viper Pepper (1,382,118 SHUs)

The Naga viper pepper originally comes from the U.K. — not because it naturally grows in that country's cool, damp climate, but because a pepper breeder in Grange-Over-Sands, Cumbria created it by hybridizing the Naga Morich, Bhut Jolokia and Moruga Scorpion peppers. In 2011, this particular pepper briefly held the title of hottest pepper in the world from Guinness World Records.


3. Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Pepper (1,463,700 SHUs)

This pepper first appeared in Trinidad and Tobago using seeds that breeder Butch Taylor produced in Mississippi. These chili peppers consistently rank among the spiciest in the world, although they're certainly not for everyone. "Asthmatics should stay away. It could literally take their breath away," Taylor told Country Roads magazine in 2014. "If you eat a Trinidad scorpion pepper straight, it burns immediately and keeps getting hotter. ... On an empty stomach it might make you puke."


2. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Pepper (2,009,231 SHUs)

Unlike the Trinidad scorpion Butch T pepper, the Trinidad Moruga scorpion is a longstanding native of Trinidad and Tobago, and it thrives there as a stable, non-hybrid species. On first bite, this super hot pepper has a surprisingly fruity flavor that gives way to intense heat that lasts several minutes. In 2012, the pepper was rated the world's hottest by the New Mexico Chile Conference. It has since ceded that title, but it remains popular in a variety of hot sauces that draw upon its unique blend of sweetness and spice.


1. Carolina Reaper Pepper (2,200,000 SHUs)

Carolina reaper
The Carolina reaper is the current hottest chili pepper in the world. Jason Raff/Shutterstock

In 2013, Guinness World Records officially declared the Carolina Reaper the hottest pepper in the world, a title it still holds. The pepper is a cultivar developed by "Smokin'" Ed Currie of South Carolina, who owns the Puckerbutt Pepper Company. Like the Trinidad scorpion, this pepper is a blend of sweetness and heat. The pepper averages 1,641,183 SHUs but can get as hot as 2,200,000 SHUs.

The League of Fire, a society that ranks chili-eating champions, oversees a Carolina Reaper pepper challenge to determine the most spice-tolerant eaters on the planet. An Australian man named Gregory "Iron Guts" Barlow holds the contest record, consuming 160 Carolina Reapers in a single sitting. For most mortals, even a whiff of the pepper's aerosolized oils might have us panting for breath.


The competition to grow the world's hottest chili pepper is not over, not by a long shot. Currie, for one, continues growing ever-hotter peppers. He claims his current hottest creation is a cultivar called Pepper X, which is a cross between a Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper) and a Trinidad scorpion pepper. The fruit of these pepper plants allegedly measures 3,180,000 Scoville Heat Units but has not been independently confirmed. This rating starts to approach the SHU of pure capsaicin, which is roughly 16,000,000.