a pile of carolina reaper peppers in varying shades of red

Carolina Reapers: Heat, History, and More

Are you ready for one of the hottest peppers in the world? Meet the Carolina Reaper, which tops the Scoville Scale at 1,400,000 to 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). In this article, we’ll explore the history of the Carolina Reaper, who invented it, and how hot it really is.

Facts about
Carolina Reapers

Heat level:
Extremely hot
Capsicum chinense
North America

What is a Carolina Reaper, and who invented it?

The Carolina Reaper, a cultivar of the Capsicum chinense plant, was developed by a man named Ed Currie. Ed didn’t set out to breed the spiciest pepper on the planet; in fact he was looking to develop a sweety pepper with more significant heat. But Ed and PuckerButt are no stranger to the hottest peppers in the world; they also cultivated the Pepper X and Apollo pepper, which are also notably spicy. The pepper was named “Reaper” because of the shape of its tail.

Common characteristics

Carolina Reapers have relatively small pepper pods ranging from 1 to 2 inches wide and 2 to 3 inches long. They mature to vibrant red color and tend to have a bumpy texture, though some can have a smoother texture. One distinctive feature of Carolina Reapers is their scorpion-like tail, similar in appearance to a scorpion pepper.

New variations in different colors like brown and yellow have been popping up recently, so you may see Carolina Reapers in a variety of colors.

History of the pepper

Did you know that the Carolina Reaper was bred in a greenhouse in Rock Hill, South Carolina by Ed Currie, who owns the Puckerbutt Pepper Company in Fort Mill? This pepper has certainly made a name for itself, as in November 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records named it the hottest pepper in the world, beating out the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion for the top spot. However, it lost the crown in October 2023 to the Pepper X. With its incredible heat, it’s no wonder that the Carolina Reaper has gained such popularity among chili enthusiasts.

How hot are Carolina Reapers?

1,400,000-2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)

The official SHU score as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records is 1,641,183 SHU, which was verified by a test conducted at Winthrop University in 2017. This number is an average of a tested batch, and the individual hottest pepper they tested was 2,200,000 SHU, showing just how much they can vary in heat.

The Carolina Reaper pepper packs an intense punch with a range of 1,400,000 to 2,200,000 Scoville heat units, making it one of the hottest peppers in the world. In fact, at its peak, it can be as hot as or even hotter than standard pepper spray used by police. Its heat is not for the faint of heart and should be approached with caution.

While jalapeños are often the benchmark that we compare spicy foods to, they are 175 times weaker than the mildest Carolina Reaper, so it’s not a very helpful reference point.

What do Carolina Reapers taste like?

Despite its extreme heat, the Carolina Reaper is surprisingly sweet and fruity. Remember: this pepper was initially bread to be a sweet pepper with a little extra kick. The sweet/heat combo makes it a favorite among hot sauce makers. The experience has been described as biting into something fruity at first, but then it quickly turns into lava in your mouth.

How to cook with Carolina Reapers

When cooking with Carolina Reapers, keep in mind that this is an EXTREMELY spicy pepper, and take appropriate precautions.

Wear gloves when handling the peppers to avoid contact burns, and be sure to wear goggles and a facemask.

If you want all of the flavors of a reaper with only a fraction of the heat, you can remove the membrane and seeds from the pepper. The white pith of the pepper contains the highest concentration of capsaicin (the compound that makes peppers spicy) so removing it will make a significant difference in the heat level.

It is also important to start small when cooking with Carolina Reapers. Just a small slice or two of this pepper can light up your whole dish. Consider stirring some into your favorite soups, stews, or chili recipes to add extra heat and flavor.

Carolina Reapers vs. Ghost Peppers

Ghost peppers, also known as bhut jolokia, are one of the original superhot peppers, with a heat range from 855,000 to 1,041,427 SHU. While Ghost Peppers have an impressive heat level, the Carolina Reaper kicks it up another notch. The hottest Carolina Reaper is more than twice as hot as the hottest Ghost Pepper.

What would happen if you ate a Carolina Reaper raw? Would it kill you?

Eating a Carolina Reaper raw is not going to be a pleasant experience, but it also won’t kill you. Keep in mind, the pepper is so hot that even handling it uncut can cause skin burns, which can cause severe pain.

Expect to experience extreme pain and burning in your mouth, watery eyes, sweating, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing. There have also been reported cases of symptoms like headaches, neck pain, and dry heaving (Boddhula et. al., 2018), and in some cases people have had to go to the emergency room because of their symptoms.

Poison Control has some helpful information for preventing and mitigating spicy food incidents when eating hot chilis.

Don’t make the mistake of jumping straight to the Carolina Reaper from a jalapeño or cayenne pepper tolerance level – they’re not even in the same league! The pepper scale is a journey, and to get to a place where you will enjoy Carolina Reapers, you need to build up your tolerance gradually.

So take your time, savor each step, and when you’re finally ready, brace yourself for an unforgettable experience!

Where to get Carolina Reapers

If you’re looking for fresh Carolina Reapers, you may not find them in your local stores. However, you can still get them from specialty stores or chili farms. Another option is to purchase Carolina Reaper hot sauces, seeds, and other products online from vendors such as Amazon or specialized gardening sites.