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A Carolina Reaper Guide – Colors, Uses, Growing and More

The Carolina Reaper has earned its name. It is currently the hottest pepper in the world and is the summit of many hot pepper challenges.

Despite being the hottest pepper in the world, there is much that Carolina Reapers can be used for. They are among the most delicious and beautiful peppers and come in a variety of tastes and colors that make them stand out among their peers. This makes them great additions to any kitchen or garden.

We will explore the Carolina Reaper in depth in this guide, and touch on how to grow them, eat them, and even provide some potential dangers of consuming them.

What Are Carolina Reapers?

The Carolina Reaper originated in South Carolina and was created by Ed Currie of the PuckerButt Pepper Company. It was originally called the HP22B pepper until 2013 when it was given the more morbid, yet fitting, name it currently has.

The Carolina Reaper is an extremely hot pepper, almost unnaturally hot. Some peppers exist that rival the heat of the Carolina Reaper, but none exist in nature. The Carolina Reaper is a hybrid of a La Soufiere pepper from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and a Naga Viper pepper from Pakistan, which are both extremely hot peppers themselves. These were combined to produce a flavorful pepper that was spicier than either of them.

More About the Carolina Reaper

The Carolina Reaper burns at over 2,200,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). The SHU is a unit that is measured by how many times you need to dilute the pepper in sugar water to make the heat “un-tastable”.

Just to make it clear how hot the Carolina Reaper is, after the extraction of the pepper oil, the oil needs to be diluted with one of the following measurements of sugar water to eliminate the crazy spicy heat:

  • 2,200,000 drops of sugar water
  • 468 cups of sugar water
  • 29 gallons of sugar water

Yup, it is that hot! It doesn’t matter who you are, that is enough heat to put you on your knees begging for mercy from the scorching inferno.

The Carolina Reaper pepper’s size measurements range from an inch to a few inches long.

The pods look surprisingly lethal, almost as if to warn you about the pepper’s heat. It has a tail that is sharp and curved like a scorpion. Although some Carolina Reapers can have smooth pods much like Bell peppers, most are gnarled and bumpy.

The Carolina Reaper is usually red. However, they also come in a variety of other colors including:

  • Chocolate
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green (unripened state)

I love writing about Carolina Reaper peppers, check out some of my other posts on the pepper!

Carolina Pepper Quicklinks

What Do Carolina Reapers Taste Like?

Brave folks who have eaten the Carolina Reaper have reported that the pepper tastes fruity and sweet with a hint of cinnamon and chocolate. Many note that it is surprisingly flavorful for such a spicy pepper. The pleasant flavor lasts for about two seconds before it is overwhelmed by extreme spiciness and subsequent pain.

It has even been incorporated into many recipes to add a level of spice that simply cannot be matched by any other pepper.

Some common food items it is added to, include:

  • Sauces
  • Wings
  • Salsa
  • Jelly
  • Soups and stews

The Carolina Reaper is even dried and made into a powder that can be incorporated in anything you want to add spice and flavor to, much like Cayenne but many times hotter.

If you’re looking to try Carolina Reapers, which you should do if you love spicy food, I recommend the following products on Amazon:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What Does it Feel Like to Eat a Carolina Reaper and How Painful is it?

Obviously, the Carolina Reaper is spicy, but many people have no idea of how spicy it really is. It is not just hotter than most common peppers, it is hundreds of times hotter, maybe even a thousand times hotter!

A Carolina Reaper pepper is reported to be 175 to 880 times hotter than a Jalapeño. It is more than 10 times hotter than the hottest Habanero. Even if you pop super hot peppers in your mouth like mints, you will not be ready for what a Carolina Reaper has in store for you when it comes to heat level.

This pepper can turn the toughest people into weeping puddles of misery. The Carolina Reaper made headlines when an NPR reporter took a bite, just a bite, of the Carolina Reaper then allegedly collapsed to the floor, rolling in pain and even hallucinating. To be clear, this is a perfectly legal pepper that is classified as food, not a powerful drug.

It is reported that those who consume Carolina Reapers do not feel the pain from the pepper for the first few seconds which gives time to taste its unique flavor, albeit very briefly. The pain begins after about seven seconds, sometimes accompanied by the following other side effects:

  • Throat tightening
  • Excessive sweating
  • Runny noses

You can experience side effects for around two minutes. After which, the climax of the pain starts and will last for four to five minutes. You will feel lightheaded and massive heartburn-like pain. After about 10 minutes, that part is over, but people forget that your insides also react to the spiciness that comes from these peppers. It is common for people to report very painful stomach cramps hours later, and some people even report feeling nauseous.

If you dare to face the Carolina Reaper, be prepared to pay the price!

Is it Safe to Eat Carolina Reapers? Will Eating a Carolina Reaper Kill You?

As disturbing as the pain just described sounds, it is safe for most people to eat a Carolina Reaper.

The most infamous case of how dangerous Carolina Reapers can be is when a man was rushed to a hospital because of massive headaches after consuming them. These massive headaches were caused by reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, a temporary artery narrowing in the brain. This was caused by the pain response from eating the pepper.

Luckily the man survived. However, there have been rare cases where these constrictions could lead to stroke and possibly death. None of these cases, however, involved eating anything spicy, much less eating the Carolina Reaper.

If you have any conditions that could lead to this, it may be best to avoid the Caroline Reaper.

Can Carolina Reapers Burn a Hole Through You?

This is a myth. Despite how hot Carolina Reapers are, they will not burn a hole in you. There have been some cases where people have reported that the Carolina Reaper has burned a hole in someone’s esophagus. Technically, it was not the pepper that did this, but the acid from his stomach that was regurgitated after eating the pepper. Extreme acid reflux may have been caused by the Carolina Reaper, but saying that the Carolina Reaper can burn a hole in you is a bit misleading.

Can Carolina Reapers Burn Your Skin and How do You Get Rid of the Burning?

Carolina Reapers are the hottest peppers in the world (so far). Like Jalapeños and other hot peppers, the oils can cause a burning sensation on your skin, which can feel like your hands are on fire. Do not worry too much, though, they will not burn through your skin and you can gte rid of the burning sensation.

If you get the oils on your hands, you can get rid of them fairly easily and you can check out our comprehensive guide on the topic on getting rid of the burning sensation. Remember, this is not a burn, but a sensation caused by the oils. To remove the burn, you need to neutralize or remove the oils, and there are many ways to do this:

  • Dish soap: They can remove grease and oils from dishes, and likewise can help remove oils like capsaicin from hands too.
  • Rubbing alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is made of isopropyl alcohol, an organic solvent that can remove oils better than water.
  • Soak in starch: Starch can absorb the oils.
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is an organic acid that can dissolve oils better than water, much like rubbing alcohol.
  • Aerosol calamine spray: These sprays are more often used to remove poison ivy, oak, or sumac oils to relieve rashes and pain. Since hot peppers cause similar burning sensations by their oils, it should work the same way. Some claim this is the only true way to relieve the burning sensation.

What are Good Substitutes for the Carolina Reaper?

If you still want to try Carolina Reapers despite their pain and even potential risks, first note that you should work up to Carolina Reapers and not try them instantly. If you have never tried a Ghost pepper yet, you should not even think about trying the Carolina Reaper. Like many fiery hot peppers, it’s best to work yourself up to the really spicy ones

Below are “stepping stone” peppers, to work your way up to before trying any super-hot chili peppers, like the Carolina Reapers:

  • Poblano peppers
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Kung Pao peppers
  • Serrano peppers
  • Cayenne peppers
  • Thai chili peppers
  • Habanero peppers

These all provide unique flavors and a various amount of heat ranging from mild to a considerable fraction of the heat of Carolina Reapers. They are also more commonly found in stores, as compared to the Carolina Reaper.

However, if you want peppers with similar heat levels, you should consider the other high-ranking super-hot chili peppers:

Rank by hottestPepperSHU
2Trinidad Moruga Scorpion2,009,231
3Trinidad Scorpion Butch1,463,700
4Naga Viper1,382,118
5Bhut Jolokia (Ghost pepper)1,041,427
6Red Savina Habanero580,000
7, 8, & 9Scotch Bonnet, Jamaican Hot, Habanero350,000

If you want to read more about the hottest chili peppers in the world, check out our post on the topic.

What Color Carolina Reapers are the Hottest?

The color of the Carolina Reaper is primarily used to determine ripeness. Ripe peppers tend to be a richer red. However, ripeness tends to correlate with heat, which is why red peppers tend to be the hottest (which is kind of fitting!). Green peppers are the least ripe and hot. The best time to pick Carolina Reaper peppers is when they are red and fully ripe.

Yellow and orange peppers tend to be less ripe and less hot than red Carolina Reapers. However, there are naturally yellow and orange peppers which reach optimal ripeness at those specific colors. It may be tricky to determine which color peppers are hottest, but you can usually rely on red ones being fiery hot.

Will Carolina Reapers Ripen Off the Plants and How Long Does the Ripening Process Take?

There are times when you must pick the peppers off your plant before they ripen. These include times of frost or because of pests, which can destroy your harvest before it even begins.

Luckily, Carolina Reapers can be picked before they are ripened, and can continue to ripen off the plant. Some ways to ripen Carolina Reapers include:

  • Windowsill method: You can place Carolina Reapers on a windowsill that receives plenty of sunlight, which can help ripen the peppers in a few days. You can keep your peppers in the light to ripen to your liking. Unfortunately, they can over-ripen and even rot, so pay attention to your peppers every day or even twice a day to prevent this from happening.
  • Paper bag method: You can place the unripe peppers in a paper bag with a ripe tomato or apple, which can help ripen the peppers. The paper bag method is a more controlled way to ripen Carolina Reapers can prevent them from over-ripening or rotting. It can usually take a week for peppers to ripen when using this method, but the warmer the temperature, the quicker the ripening process.

Can Carolina Reapers be Grown in Pots or Indoors?

Yes, Carolina Reapers can be grown in pots, but only the correct types and size of pots.

Carolina Reaper plants can grow up to four feet tall and six feet wide. They are large plants, so they will need large pots, sometimes up to 5-gallon pots.

This makes Carolina Reaper plants more portable so you can move them to more suitable environments as they grow, which is crucial for their growth.

Carolina Reapers can not only be grown in pots, but they can also be grown indoors. In fact, in some steps, it is recommended you grow Carolina Reaper plants inside during their germination stages, to prevent them from cooler environments which can limit growth.

Many growers recommend that Carolina Reapers should be grown outside to be exposed to the environment, which can help strengthen the plant. However, some grow them indoors beyond the germination stage, with very specific set ups. For instance, some people use fans to mimic wind, which helps to strengthen the plant. Some people claim growing Carolina Reapers indoors produces quality peppers compared to growing them outdoors. The best location really depends on the local climate you are growing your peppers in.

Are Carolina Reapers Difficult to Grow and Where do They Grow Best?

PuckerButt Pepper Company and many other companies sell Carolina Reaper seeds ready to grow, and almost any gardener can grow these special peppers. If you are looking for Carolina Reaper seeds click the Amazon link.

The only thing difficult about growing Carolina Reapers is the germination period where the seeds turn into sprouts. Moisture and heat must be consistent and too much fluctuation in either can lead to failed plants.

Be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on growing Carolina Reapers to learn more on this subject!

The steps to growing Carolina Reapers include:

  • Refrigerate seeds for up to three days before planting. This mimics the act of the seeds being exposed to spring conditions.
  • Soak seeds in room temperature black tea for 30 minutes to soften seed shells.
  • Sow seeds under ⅛ inch of sterile, soilless planting mix and store in clean containers that allow adequate drainage.
  • Lightly dust the seeds with soil.
  • Keep the soil/planting mix moist. Do not over-water and do not let the soil dry out.
  • Let the seeds germinate for four to six weeks.
  • Spray the covering with water to keep the soil moist, but not over soaked.
  • You can bring the temperature of the seeds up to 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit to speed up germination, but they should never be less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The seedlings should be replanted in soil. Make sure the soil is damp and moist.
  • Space the plants at least four feet apart and give them plenty of light.
  • After they are fully grown, you should place them outside in an environment with natural wind and weather. However, if you live in a colder environment, you might consider keeping them indoors.

With the right set up, Carolina Reapers can grow just about any place. However, they do require specific care and temperatures at certain stages if you expect optimal results.

Luckily, you can make a setup with greenhouses and grow tents to mimic the optimal growing environments. Growing Carolina Reapers in less optimal environments can lead to less flavorful and spicy peppers.

Growing the plants in temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit can make the plants lose their blossoms and cause them to produce no fruit. It is best to grow these plants in pots so you can transfer them to more suitable environments, such as in the shade during hot days. It may even be more suitable to grow them in a greenhouse at certain times.

How Many Carolina Reapers Do You Get Per Plant?

The number of peppers you get per plant is largely dependent on you. Did you use the right fertilizer or soil? Did you control the pH level? Did you make sure the plants were watered, but not overwatered? Did the plants receive sufficient light? Even growing them outdoors has significant effects on the number of peppers you can have per plant, and keep in mind that some factors are beyond your control.

The typical number of peppers per plant is 20-30 peppers, however there have been some instances where gardeners have grown up to 50 peppers per plant. Luckily, the Carolina Reaper is so spicy and flavorful, you only need a few when you cook with them!

How Long Do Carolina Reapers Take to Grow?

Like anything worth growing, it takes patience to see something reach maturity. It takes an average of 90-100 days for the Carolina Reaper to mature. As with any gardening endeavor, timing will vary based on controllable and uncontrollable factors.

What is the Best Time to Plant Carolina Reapers?

It takes around three months for a Carolina Reaper plant to mature, and they hate temperatures below 60and above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They require warm weather to grow optimally and may even need to be planted at specific times to do this.

There is no official season to grow Carolina Reapers. However, if they are grown outside three needs to be no risk of frost or a heatwave, as either can kill the fruits of your labor. The optimal time to start growing Carolina Reapers is either late winter or early spring. You will have at least a week (probably longer) to start germinating the plant inside. Then you can grow the plants outside for a few months in the spring when there is little risk of frost or very hot temperatures.

Are Carolina Reaper Plants Self-Pollinating?

Carolina Reaper plants, like most pepper plants, are self-pollinating and will require no additional work from you to reach full maturity. Occasionally, however, their self-pollination will stall and require additional help.

Most of the time, if your Carolina Reapers are having difficulties pollinating or reaching full ripeness, a simple, soft brush can be used to activate their pollination, but should not be needed most of the time.

How to Make Your Carolina Reaper Survive More Than One Season

Annual plants can survive for only one growing season, while perennials can bear fruit for multiple seasons. Carolina Reapers, like many peppers, are perennials and can be grown for multiple seasons.

However, they will stop bearing peppers depending on many factors, some of which you may not have as much control over. But there are ways to maximize the number of seasons you can have your Carolina Reaper bear hot and flavorful peppers. These include:

  • Bring your plant inside: You need to make sure your plant is within the optimal temperature range to thrive. If you live in cooler environments you might consider bringing your plants indoor when it gets cooler.
  • Force the plant into dormancy: Plants can enter dormancy if they are put in the darkplace like a basement or room with no windows. They look dead, but they are just in a hibernation-like state, which can help preserve the plant.
  • Use less water: The key to the best Carolina Reaper plant is to control its water intake. Carolina Reapers do not need too much water, so be careful not to overwater them.
  • Prune the plant: When your Carolina Reaper plant is growing, you may start to notice dead branches. These dead branches make the plant susceptible to pest and environmental damage, so make sure to remove these dead branches which will help the plant grow new, healthy branches.
  • Grow the plant to a bright and warm location: This will wake your plant out of dormancy and help it start to heal and grow.

How to Use Carolina Reapers

As tempting as the pepper challenge is, most people do not recommend consuming the pepper raw. It is very hot. Instead, Carolina Reapers can be prepared in many recipes including:

  • Salsas
  • Jams
  • Chili powder
  • Hot sauces (of course)

It is highly recommended that you cook Carolina Reapers while wearing gloves. You can feel the burn from preparing Jalapeños, which can be as little as a thousandth the heat of a Carolina Reaper, so imagine how a Carolina Reaper’s oils will feel on your hands.

The good thing about pepper plants is that you are not limited to just the peppers. The leaves of capsicum pepper plants are edible when cooked. They add a unique bitter flavor mixed with some sweet tastes that are very similar to spinach. Be careful, though, some leaves could be toxic, so be sure to do your research before cooking with them.

Storage of Carolina Reapers

Like all peppers, Carolina Reapers can decay or dry out quickly, so it is crucial to properly store Carolina Reapers. To store them:

  • Brush off the dirt from the peppers, do not wash them
  • Then store them in your fridge

Their best storage temperatures are 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit, and they can last two to three weeks under these conditions.

These peppers can be stored even longer when frozen. To prepare frozen Carolina Reapers:

  • Roast or slice the peppers. This allows them to be frozen well.
  • Place the prepared peppers in a freezer bag.
  • Remove as much air as possible.
  • Seal the bag.
  • Put the bag in the freezer.

Carolina Reapers can be frozen for up to six months.

You can even dry the peppers, a step that is not only good for storage, but a necessary step in preparing Carolina Reapers to make chili powder, some sauces, and other recipes.

There are three ways to dry Carolina Reapers:

  • A dehydrator
  • An oven
  • Air dry

To dry Carolina Reapers with a dehydrator, you need to slice up the peppers into strips and place them in the food dehydrator for two to four hours.

Drying Carolina Reapers in an oven is similar:

  • Slice the peppers into strips and place them on a cookie sheet.
  • Turn the oven on to between 140-170 degrees Fahrenheit and keep the door slightly ajar.
  • Occasionally stir the peppers over a span of between three to six hours.

Air drying Carolina Reapers can be a bit trickier. If it fails, the peppers will rot and decay instead of drying out. To air-dry:

  • String up the peppers.
  • Hang the peppers in a warm, dry room for up to three weeks.

Closing Thoughts

The Carolina Reaper is a very powerful pepper. It has become an icon of popular culture by becoming a challenge for people to attempt and has been regularly showcased on the show Hot Ones. However, it is more than just the hottest pepper in the world.

It is also one of the most flavorful peppers in the world. This has inspired people to grow their own Carolina Reapers and prepare their food with it. Yes, they will still scorch your mouth, but they will also provide an experience of flavor that no other pepper will provide.

The Carolina Reaper is an adventure, no matter if you cook it, eat it, or grow it. Even if the Carolina Reaper is dethroned by another, newer hottest pepper in the world, it has had an impact on the world, and it is unlikely people will forget the name, much less the heat and flavor of this pepper.