A few years ago Anita’s Hot Sauce had one of our first harvests of ghost pepper. We started selling them pickled in jars. A woman bought a jar at an event we attended. An hour later she returned. Her face looked frozen like she just left the dentist. She explained that she just ate one of our ghost peppers and it was super hot. To our surprise she bought two more jars and made sure to take our card. Although she was in obvious discomfort due to the spiciness of the ghost pepper, she was addicted. It hurt so good.
Soon after that Anita’s Hot Sauce started working with farmers in southern Taiwan to farm super hot chilies along with our other milder peppers.
This has led to us making Anita’s “The Ghost” and then “The Torcher” and “the Wrath” soon after. Since the cultivation of these types of peppers were relatively unknown at the time in Taiwan we had to process and store the pepper mash in our facility.
The burning in chilies comes from the capsaicin in the peppers. It is an irritant for mammals which causes a burning sensation when it comes into contact with any skin. The capsaicin bypasses your taste buds and hits the nerve endings in your tongue. In other words; spice is not a taste.
When the capsaicin reaches the nerve endings it sends a signal to the brain. It tricks the brain into thinking there’s an actual change in temperature in the body. The spice isn’t actually burning you but the brain reacts like it is. The body will try to cool itself either by sweating or breathing fast. It will also ramp up production of mucus and saliva and tears.
Scientists have found that chili peppers and tarantulas have the same anti-mammal defense. They are partners in pain. While the chili pepper targets the receptor from the inside, the tarantula targets from outside. Both the plant and the spider evolved a toxin to defend themselves against predators.
This is helping researchers in how to treat persistent pain such as arthritis, bladder infections and other diseases. They are genetically engineering mice to lack capsaicin receptors.
In most chili peppers, capsaicin is present in large quantities in the placental tissue that holds the seeds. It can be described as a yellow vesicle that is present in the inner wall where the seeds are attached. In super hot peppers there has been evidence that capsaicin is also stored in the skin thus intensifying the reaction.
In the late 2000’s super hot peppers became big business in the USA. Before the Ghost pepper everyone assumed that the habanero was as hot as it could get. Once they realized that the sky was the limit, researchers from the USA, Australia and the UK started cross pollinating as they tried to beat the Ghost peppers mark.
In 2011, The “Butch T” Trinidad Scorpion was measured at 1.4 million scoville(SHU) units.(measurement of pungency of chili peppers) The title changed three times in a year. Eventually the Carolina Reaper became the hottest at 2.2 million SHU. Since then, there has been a war of words and lawyers over seeds and legitimacy. The reality is that all peppers grown are affected by the climate and soil of a region and the results can vary a great deal.
The Ghost Pepper
The Ghost pepper or Bhut Jolokia is a super hot hybrid chili cultivated in the North Eastern Indian states of Assam and Nagaland. They used it to “heat up” curries, chutneys and pickles. It was largely unknown even in India until the Indian Defense Test laboratory realized it had a scoville rating that was off the charts.
Up until that time The habanero pepper grown in Mexico was said to have the highest scoville rating between 200,000-500,000. The ghost pepper topped out at a whopping 1,000,000 SHU. In 2006, it became the Guinness Book of World record holder for the hottest chili in the world.
In India, Chilies are an important part of everyday cooking. It is thought that the Portuguese introduced them to India at the trading colony of Goa. From there the Chilies were most likely not only spread by people but also birds. The seeds pass through the digestive tract of birds and can be used later.
Over time, different kinds of chilli peppers made their way to northeast India. It is assumed that through gradual cross pollination and the unique temperature and soil resulted in the growth of the Ghost pepper.
Look and Taste
The ripe ghost peppers are up to 8cm long and are usually red, though there are different colored varieties including chocolate.The Ghost pepper has a sweet fruity flavor in the beginning which is soon followed by an intense heat. This intense burn can be for 10-15 minutes and can linger for up to 40 minutes.
Bhut Jolokia Uses
Due to fruity initial flavor and intense heat, The Ghost peppers are great for making hot sauces, Sambal, dehydrating into powders or chili flakes or for making stews or curries. It can be used in the same way any other chili pepper is used but remember that a little goes a long way.
In India, the Ghost pepper is used as a home remedy for stomach pain and a way to beat the summer heat. It’s a defence against both animals and people. Locals of north eastern India smear it on fences to keep the elephants away from their crops. The Indian government started using it to make smoke bombs and grenades to deal with terrorists in caves. It causes temporary paralysis without any long term effects.
The Scorpion Pepper
Once the Ghost pepper took over as the hottest pepper in the world the real competition started. The focus turned from India to Trinidad where the scorpion pepper is from. The Trinidad butch T was introduced by Butch Taylor, an American, to The Hippy Seed Company in Australia. They called it the Butch T.
In 2012, The New Mexico State University identified the Moruga scorpion as the hottest, clocking in at more than 2,000,000 SHU. It was initially created by Wahid Ogeer of Freeport, Trinidad. In this time period there were a lot of controversial claims of the hottest pepper. The super hot wars got especially ugly in the US. Although the super hot pepper category is relatively new it has become a lucrative business.
Look and Taste
The scorpion has a fruity flavor but it would never be considered sweet hot. The heat is too intense. Chilli expert Paul Bosland said “ You take a bite. It doesn’t seem so bad, then it builds and builds and builds and it builds. It’s quite nasty.” Anita’s Hot Sauce uses it combined with the habanero in “The Torcher” to give that extra kick.
In my experience in eating and processing the scorpion, it is twice as potent as the ghost pepper. It’s like a strong typhoon where even when you think the storm has passed it keeps on coming. The capsaicin levels are so high it can burn the skin and may affect mucus membranes.
The scorpion pepper is shiny and the skin is bumpy. It is roundish with a small scorpion-like tail. The plants are perennials and grow quite easily in southern Taiwan. It is similar to the scorpion's native Trinidad climate. As the pepper grows it changes from green to yellow to bright red. The riper it is the more pungent.
The Carolina Reaper
The Carolina Reaper pepper heat is extreme and it became the Guiness Book of World Record holder for SHU in 2017. The reaper has the highest average SHU of 1.64 million and has a peak of 2.2 million. It is more than twice as hot as the Ghost pepper. The reality is that the hottest reaper and the most pungent scorpion are very similar in heat. Anita’s Hot Sauce has had less success in growing these peppers but it could be just the lack of quality seeds available in Taiwan.
The Carolina Reaper was bred in Ed Currie’s greenhouse in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He crossed a Pakistani Naga with a red habanero. He started growing peppers because he was interested in the health benefits.
Look and Taste
The reaper is smaller at between 2.5-5cm long and kind of squashed looking. It is vibrant red and the skin is bumpy. It has a scorpion-like tail. It is probably the sweetest of the super hot peppers. The "Reaper" has earthy undertones if you can get past the intense heat.
It’s a Headache
In 2018 a man ate a Carolina Reaper at a contest and got a ‘thunderclap” headache. His symptoms began with dry heaves followed by an intense headache. Thunderclap headaches are severe and come on very fast. Doctors take them seriously because they can be a sign of a brain hemorrhage or stroke.
Health Benefits of Superhots
People started demanding hotter peppers due to the influences of cuisine from countries such as India, Thailand and Jamaica that use a lot of heat in their food. They soon started to gain tolerance. The pain of eating hot peppers releases endorphins which make some people feel relieved. It calms the body by inducing perspiration.
It has long been thought that chilli peppers help with metabolism and is already used as a treatment for psoriasis and muscle aches. The skin of Super hots has been studied for cancer fighting properties. The studies on rodents claim it may help with prostate, colon cancer and leukemia.
Taiwan and Superhots
Anita’s Hot Sauce is based in southern Taiwan where it is hot and humid and chili peppers can grow all year around. Our best success with farmers has been those who had previous experience growing birds eye peppers.
The super hots are a little trickier to grow but if the farmer is patient and has the right conditions at his farm he will soon see results. Since we use super hot peppers in over half of our sauces it has become important for Anita’s Hot Sauce to continue to work with farmers to ensure supply.