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A Ghost Pepper Guide – Colors, Uses, Growing, and More

The Ghost pepper is one of the world’s hottest peppers and has gained popularity thanks to its incredible heat and unique flavor. Due to the pepper’s popularity, many want to learn more about it and we hope this comprehensive guide will answer many questions about this uniquely hot pepper.

Ghost peppers are incredibly hot, topping over 1 million Scoville Heat Units. They can be eaten raw, turned into hot sauce, or added to a variety of dishes. They have a unique chili flavor before the intense heat kicks in. Ghost peppers grow best in highly humid heat and can be grown at home.

Basic Ghost Pepper Facts

The Ghost pepper tops over 1 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU). To put that in perspective, the average Jalapeño pepper only has a rating of about 4,000 SHU. The Ghost pepper was the hottest pepper in the world for a few years starting in 2006, but has since been surpassed in heat by the Carolina Reaper pepper.

Ghost peppers look like most other hot peppers: they are small, between 2-3 inches long, and come in a variety of colors including:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • White
  • Brown
  • Peach
  • Purple

The spiciest and most used color variety of the Ghost pepper is red.

Ghost peppers, in addition to packing a heat almost no one in the world is ready for, have a distinct fruity, chili flavor. In fact, the heat is delayed by about thirty seconds, letting the taste truly kick in.

The average Ghost pepper is very light, weighing about a third of an ounce. Do not underestimate how much heat this small pepper still packs, especially if you are new to the world of incredibly hot peppers!

What Are Ghost Peppers?

The Ghost pepper, or bhut jolokia (which means ghost pepper in Assamese), is naturally grown in India and Bangladesh. They are one of the hottest peppers in the world and sat at the top of the hot list from 2006 to 2010. As they have grown in popularity, they are now cultured and farmed in a variety of places.

The reason for the original Assam name is somewhat unknown, but many believe that it stems back to the pepper’s unique heat which sneaks up on you like a ghost.

Ghost peppers are thin-skinned and their spice is evenly spread throughout the whole pepper, unlike some others which have most of the heat in the seeds. As such, regardless of how the ghost pepper is prepared, the heat will come through.

Where Do Ghost Peppers Come From?

Ghost peppers originate from India, in the northern parts of the country. It also grows naturally around Bangladesh, although more rarely.

It is possible to grow Ghost peppers in any climate that roughly matches that of India; heat and humidity are essential, making them great options for growing in greenhouses. Thanks to the ease in growing them, Ghost peppers can now be found across much of the world.

What Do Ghost Peppers Taste Like?

Ghost peppers are known to have a nice flavor before the heat kicks in, often used in chili or other foods that have a smoky, complex palette. The different colors of ghost peppers taste slightly unique, but the flavorful and fruity initial taste is generally found across all types of Ghost peppers.

Many pepper lovers argue that, despite the intense heat, Ghost peppers have a better flavor than many other popular peppers. Of course, it is possible to go too far and have the flavor lost in the heat, so most recommend using incredibly small amounts at one time.

A common way to experience the taste of Ghost peppers is through Ghost pepper flakes placed sparingly over your food.

How Hot Are Ghost Peppers?

The Ghost pepper is one of the hottest peppers in the world and was actually the hottest between 2006 and 2010. The Ghost pepper surpasses 1 million Scoville heat units, dwarfing common peppers such as Jalapeños.

For context as to what that number means, consider the following:

  • Bell peppers rate a 0 on the Scoville scale
  • Tabasco sauce is between 2,500 to 5,000 SHU
  • Jalapeños are between 3,500 to 6,000 units
  • The hottest pepper in the world, the Carolina Reaper, has around 2.2 million Scoville units

Where Do They Rank Amongst the Hottest Peppers?

The ghost pepper is still one of the world’s hottest peppers, but it has been surpassed in heat by several “Super-Hot” peppers. These are peppers that have surpassed 1 million Scoville units.

The vast majority of peppers hotter than the Ghost pepper are hybrids, specifically created by people to become as hot as possible. The Ghost pepper is still the seventh hottest pepper in the world. The hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina Reaper, which roughly doubles the ghost pepper in Scoville units at 2.2 million.

Which Color of Ghost Pepper Is Hottest?

The hottest color of ghost pepper is red, although all have intense heat. In fact, the largest difference between colors is not heat, but flavor.

The red Ghost pepper is the classic, and likely is what you have eaten if you have experience with Ghost peppers. It is the hottest variety of Ghost pepper. It is accompanied by a smoky flavor, and the intense heat generally fills the entire mouth and throat.

The peach-colored Ghost pepper is roughly as hot as the red variety, but the heat is also balanced by a fruity aftertaste. This can make the peach variety better for hot sauces and eating.

The brown Ghost pepper also has the same heat as red but is cut by a sweet aftertaste. This creates a unique flavor profile that highlights the smokiness of Ghost peppers and provides a minor relief after the heat.

For more information on each color and how best to use them all, check out this guide which goes into more depth on each Ghost pepper type.

Is It Safe to Eat Ghost Peppers?

Eating Ghost peppers under all but the most extreme conditions is safe. While the experience itself may be painful, especially if it is your first “superhot” pepper, eating a Ghost pepper will have no adverse effects on your body.

However, this does not mean that the experience will be entirely pleasant. Your taste buds will react to the heat and send signals to the pain receptors to the brain, essentially alerting the brain that your mouth is burning.

However, peppers have been proven to provide a fair amount of health benefits when eaten in moderation. Be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on the health benefits of peppers.

Will Eating a Ghost Pepper Kill You?

Despite the heat and possible feeling of dying, it is extremely unlikely for you to die from eating a Ghost pepper.

While this is a common rumor, it was put to rest by researchers who determined that three pounds of dried and powdered Ghost peppers would have to be eaten in a relatively short amount of time for someone to die from eating it. So, technically, you can die from eating Ghost peppers, but the chances of it happening are essentially zero.

That being said, if someone has other conditions or ailments, it’s best to be cautious when consuming super hot peppers like the Ghost pepper, as other serious damage could be done to your body if consumed in high amounts. In general, your body will shut down and not allow you to eat enough Ghost peppers to kill you long before the fact; however, for ultimate safety, it is best to consume Ghost peppers in small amounts.

What Are Ghost Peppers Good For?

Ghost peppers have a wide variety of uses, although the most common applications are found in cooking. They can be eaten raw and whole, dried, spread over food in a flake form, and crafted into hot sauces.

Outside of food applications, Ghost peppers have been used for a variety of experiments and even made their way into grenades crafted by the Indian government. The heat from ghost peppers is so severe that it has been used in pepper spray and other weaponry in the past. Of course, this is not applicable for home usage. It is much better to use them as flavor enhancers when cooking.

Should You Cook with Ghost Peppers? How Do You Cook with Ghost Peppers?

Cooking with Ghost peppers can add a great amount of heat and flavor to just about any dish, but it must be done carefully. The amount of Ghost pepper used in any dish should be carefully monitored, as the heat can very easily outpower all other flavors and make the dish simply inedible to a majority of people.

There are many ways to cook with ghost peppers. Some of the most common are:

  • Hot sauces
  • Chili oils
  • Soups and chilis
  • Creating flakes

These transform the ghost pepper into a product that can then be applied, with much care and caution, to future meals.

Safety while cooking or doing anything with Ghost peppers is paramount. When preparing Ghost peppers in any of the variety of ways they can be used, be sure to:

  • Wear gloves when handling and cutting the peppers
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after handling, even if wearing gloves
  • Do not lean over pots or cooking with ghost peppers, as the fumes can cause eye irritation
  • Thoroughly wash all equipment that came in contact with the Ghost pepper, or that you touched while handling the peppers
  • Keep windows open to allow for good air ventilation

Even just the oils from the pepper can cause chili burn, so it is vital to use the proper equipment and be smart in the kitchen.

What Are Good Substitutions for Ghost Peppers?

Substituting the Ghost pepper can be a challenge, but it is doable. The first thing to consider is what you are trying to substitute the Ghost pepper for.

If you want to replicate the heat of the Ghost pepper, there are a few other peppers that hover around the 1 million Scoville unit mark. Some of the most popular alternatives are the 7 Pot peppers, which are a variety from Trinidad that also just pass the 1 million marker.

If you are trying to recreate the unique, fruity, smoky flavor of the Ghost pepper, there are a few options as well. Habaneros are known to share a somewhat smoky flavor, although the heat will be less. Consider searching for other peppers that are grown around India as well for a similar flavor profile.

Do Ghost Peppers Get Hotter When Cooked? Can They Be Eaten Raw?

Ghost peppers are likely to get hotter when cooked, although this increase in heat can be stifled using sweeteners such as fruit or sugar. Most of the time, when cooking a Ghost pepper, the heat will increase.

Cooking with ghost peppers is traditionally done by transforming the pepper into a form that can then be placed carefully onto other foods, so the increase in heat from cooking will not affect the flavor too much. If you want to cut some of the heat from a ghost pepper, add in sweeteners and fruits. This can also help accentuate the fruity flavor already present in the pepper. Be warned, however, that the heat is impossible to get rid of with these peppers; whatever dish you add Ghost peppers too will always be spicy.

Ghost peppers can also be eaten raw, and in fact often are as part of challenges or dares.

Are Ghost Peppers Bad for Your Stomach Or Other Internal Organs?

Ghost peppers themselves are perfectly fine for your stomach and other internal organs such as the intestine and throat. However, they can easily create situations which can endanger these different parts of the body if you are not careful when eating them.

It is possible to get an upset stomach or vomit in response to the pepper, depending on how your body and reacts to conusming such a high level of spice. These issues, in turn, are bad for your stomach and esophagus. This article goes into more detail on the subject.

Do Ghost Peppers Burn the Skin And How To Get Rid Of The Burning?

Ghost peppers can burn the skin when exposed directly to it. Capsaicin, the oil from all peppers that makes them hot, can easily rub off onto your skin. When this happens, you are likely to experience a burning sensation. If a significant amount of capsaicin is transferred to your skin, this burning could become severe.

It is essential, whenever handling Ghost peppers, to wear gloves and thoroughly wash your hands before doing anything else to help prevent burns from occurring. However, no matter how precautious you are, you could still suffer from a chili burn when handling Ghost peppers.

To eliminate the burn, cover the area with rubbing alcohol. Then, soak it in dairy. If dairy is not available, wash with warm, soapy water (consider using dish soap instead of hand soap) and then rub vegetable or olive oil into the afflicted area.

Capsaicin is more soluble in alcohol, so acting quickly may help wipe it away. In a pinch, high proof alcohol can work as well. Other methods such as sugar may help alleviate the burn as well. Check out our comprehsive guide on preventing and alleviating chili burn.

Are Ghost Peppers Hard to Grow and Where Do They Grow Best?

Ghost peppers are not extremely difficult to grow, but they do require the correct climate. They are native to India and grow best in hot and humid environments. The climate Ghost peppers are grown in directly influences how much heat they have. If the climate is not within fairly narrow parameters, they will fail to grow.

Ghost peppers are slightly difficult to grow thanks to their narrow requirements for climate and sensitivity to environment. They require very warm soil as well. If your climate does not match that of India very closely, you will have to grow them indoors or, optimally, in a greenhouse to get the proper conditions.

How Long Do Ghost Peppers Take to Grow?

Ghost peppers take a long while to grow after germination, depending on how hot you want the peppers to be. They can be harvested early in the process while still green to have significantly reduced heat, or you can wait until they are fully grown and red. They can take up to 150 days to be ready to harvest.

Ghost peppers take around 35 days to germinate. After germination, it will be helpful if you pick off the first few buds to allow even more sunlight to reach the plant. Then, let the buds grow into the delicious and hot peppers.

When picking Ghost peppers, wear gloves and be careful about not letting the peppers touch any exposed skin. This can cause burns from the oils on the peppers.

When Is the Best Time to Plant Ghost Peppers?

Because of the long growing process for Ghost peppers, it is necessary to plant them early in the year, preferably indoors or in a greenhouse. Start germinating the seeds at least eight weeks, or up to ten weeks, before the average frost in your area.

Doing this during a warm season is essential even if you live in a hot area. To grow Ghost peppers, the soil temperature needs to stay between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the seeds to germinate and begin growing. It is also possible to use a heat mat if you are worried about maintaining this level of warmth.

Are Ghost Pepper Plants Self-pollinating?

Ghost peppers are self-pollinating, especially when outdoors. It may occasionally be beneficial to manually pollinate the pepper plants if they are kept indoors and isolated, but this is not necessary most of the time.

If you choose to manually pollinate your Ghost peppers, be sure not to damage the flowers. Use a soft brush and be gentle during the process: a little can go a long way.

Will Ghost Peppers Ripen Off the Plant and How Long Does It Take?

Ghost peppers do ripen off the plant, although it is best to leave them on to ripen for as long as possible. Occasionally, a Ghost pepper that was taken off to finish ripening can become bitter in the process.

If you are worried about a frost or cooling of the weather and are considering picking the peppers earlier, do not worry. So long as the temperature is warm the majority of the day, there should be no issues. The plants can be brought inside if the cold is a concern as well, and is a better option to harvesting peppers too early.

If you choose to ripen your Ghost peppers off the plant, they will continue to ripen at about the same pace as on the plant. This means that, from start to full ripening, Ghost peppers will still take about 150 days. For the Ghost pepper to ripen off the plant, it needs to have already started the turning process.

Can Ghost Peppers Be Grown in Pots?

Ghost peppers can be grown in pots. However, they require a bit more additional upkeep to ensure that the plants are growing healthy and strong.

Use a well-draining pot, otherwise, the pepper could flood and die early in the germination process. Be sure to use fertilized soil that is full of necessary nutrients for any pot growth.

After the plant has started growing and the peppers begin popping out, keeping the plant healthy in a pot should be relatively straight forward. To encourage growth and allow enough room, the pot should be at least three gallons deep.

Can Ghost Peppers Be Grown Indoors?

Ghost peppers can absolutely be grown indoors—in fact, it is often the recommended way to grow them in most climates. Thanks to the strict heat requirements for growing effective Ghost pepper plants, it is much easier to maintain conditions indoors rather than outside.

Be sure to give indoor Ghost pepper plants plenty of light and water. They are still fairly fragile plants, so keep an eye on how they are doing to avoid any complications.

It is also possible to raise the plants as a mix of indoors and outdoors, although this can be dangerous. Ghost pepper plants are sensitive to their environment, so constantly switching could pose issues. However, if you feel they are not getting enough sun during the day, this could be the best option.

How Big Do Ghost Pepper Plants Get?

Ghost pepper plants can grow to be fairly large in size when given the proper space. A Ghost pepper plant can grow to about four feet tall, assuming it is given at least 36 inches of space around it. This means that plants grown indoors and in containers will be much smaller but can still grow to very respectable sizes.

The size of the peppers themselves are not affected by the growth of the total plant. All peppers will grow to between 2 and 4 inches long and about an inch wide, when allowed to fully grow.

How Many Ghost Peppers Do You Get Per Plant?

The number of Ghost peppers grown per plant depends directly upon how large the plant has grown. Under ideal, outdoor conditions, with a plant that has grown to full size, Ghost pepper plants will produce upwards of 200 peppers in a season.

This number naturally goes down as the plant decreases in size; for instance, if you are growing indoors or in a pot, expect this number to be much lower. Still, for home use, the return rate from plant to pepper is extraordinary.

Are Ghost Pepper Plants Annual or Perennial?

Ghost pepper plants are firmly in the perennial camp, meaning that they do not die off every season. In fact, pepper plants under the right conditions can last for years. Since Ghost pepper plants like warm climates it’s important to bring them inside as the weather cools.

Ghost pepper plants can grow all over, but It is important to consider the seasons when growing them outdoors, as well as what hardiness zone you live in. Ghost pepper plants grow best in hardiness zones 8 through 11. Here is a great reference on hardiness zones in the United States.

When to Harvest Ghost Peppers?

Ghost peppers should be picked after they have ripened, although they can be grabbed early in a pinch. A Ghost pepper is ready to be harvested once it has turned red, or to the final color of your variety.

Ghost peppers will take between 100 and 150 days, on average, to reach this maturity level. Be patient; the longer the pepper is allowed to ripen, the hotter it will be.

Use caution when picking Ghost peppers. Wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after picking them, as well as any equipment like shears that were used.

How Long Do Ghost Peppers Last?

Ghost peppers, much like other peppers, do not last long while in a fresh state. This is why many people choose to quickly convert them into preservable states such as chili oil or hot sauces.

After picking the Ghost peppers, they should be cleaned and stored in a fridge. This should keep them for between two to three weeks, giving you ample time to decide on how to properly prepare them.

What Is the Best Way to Store Ghost Peppers?

Storing Ghost peppers for the long term can be done in a variety of ways. Truthfully, the best way to store them is how you will use them the most in the future. The most popular options are creating chili oils or hot sauce out of the peppers, preserving them for a long while.

Another option for long term storage includes freezing the Ghost peppers. Freezing the peppers allows them to be used over a long period of time while remaining relatively fresh for up to six to eight months.