How to Tell When a Ghost Pepper is Ripe?


Bhut Jolokia or Ghost pepper isn’t the easiest pepper plant to grow, but if your plant has produced beautiful red fruit, you may wonder if the fruit is ripe and ready to be harvested.

You can tell when a Ghost pepper is ripe by the vibrant red (or yellow, brown, or peach, depending on the variety) color. The skin will be wrinkled with no hint of green visible on the pod. The fruit should be 2-3 inches (5-8 cms) long, which normally happens between 100-160 days after planting.

The intense spice and smoky flavors of this pepper is an acquired taste suited to chili connoisseurs the world around. Here are some ways to tell if your Ghost chili is ready to set your taste buds aflame.

Photo of a fiery hot ripe ghost pepper on a white back drop
Photo by Don Valentine

Key Characteristics of Ripe Ghost Peppers

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Ghost peppers go through a series of color changes on their way to full maturity and start as a relatively common green shade. The next stages include yellow, then orange, until they reach fiery red at full maturity. Ripe Ghost peppers will typically have the following key characteristics:

  • A slight wrinkle to the pepper’s skin
  • A bright red fruit without any other color traces such as orange or yellow.
  • The mature ghost pepper (excepting the peach variety) should reach two inches (5.1 cms) to three inches (7.6 cms) long when fully grown.
  • It’s been at least 100-160 days since the seeds were planted.

Ghost peppers need a long and hot growing season to reach full maturity and rarely mature before late summer. When harvesting ripe peppers, wear gloves and pick a well-ventilated area for cutting and preparing the pods.

What Colors do Ripe Ghost Peppers Come in?

The most common color of a ripe Ghost chili is red, but it can exhibit several colors when fully matured.

Red Bhut Jolokia

The red Ghost pepper is the most commonly found Ghost chili variety and one that Americans will most easily recognize. It averages 1,041,427 SHUs on the Scoville scale and starts by growing a bright green fruit that gradually matures into a red fruit of about 2-3 inches (5.1-7.6 cms) long. Some red Ghost peppers are smooth-skinned in maturity, but more often, ripe red Ghost peppers exhibit wrinkled textured skin.

Yellow Bhut Jolokia

The yellow Ghost pepper is another variety of Ghost chili found in the U.S. and is similar in flavor, shape, and spiciness to the red Ghost chili. It also exhibits a green color before gradually turning yellow as the plant matures. The chili pods also grow to 2-3 inches (5.1-7.6 cms.) long and may exhibit a wrinkled or smooth texture when fully ripe.

Chocolate Bhut Jolokia

The chocolate Ghost chili is a coveted variety of the Bhut Jolokia strain but is not as common as the red and yellow varieties. This variety is said to have a sweet and smoky flavor much coveted by chili connoisseurs. The mature chocolate chile turns a brown hue and typically shows a dimpled and wrinkled appearance when fully ripe.

Peach Bhut Jolokia

The peach Ghost pepper tends to exhibit larger fruit than the other varieties and may reach up to 4 inches (10.2 cms.) long when fully ripe. The fruit turns gradually from green to a peach color as the chili matures and exhibits orange hues when left to ripen fully on the plant. It has a similar heat to the red Ghost pepper, and some say its flavor is fruitier than the red variety.

Do Ghost Peppers Get Spicier as They Ripen?

Ghost peppers increase in heat as they mature, reaching a peak intensity of spiciness 60 days after flowering. According to a scientific study, Bhut Jolokia develops capsaicinoids earlier than other chili species, only ten days after flowering, which slowly increase until they reach their maximum levels 60 days after flowering. This late capsaicinoid development may be behind the substantially high heat levels of the Ghost pepper.

The study, using a sensitive mass spectrometry method, found that the other chili species begin to develop capsaicinoids only 20 days after flowering with a peak at 40 days, gradually declining until 60 days after flowering. This lengthier maturation in terms of capsaicinoids allows the Ghost pepper, in particular, to develop its spiciness properly.

How Long Does it Take a Ghost Pepper to Turn From Green to Red (on the Plant)?

According to the University of New Mexico, Bhut Jolokia has a relatively long growing period and may take between 36 and 70 days to germinate after planting. Environmental factors may increase or decrease the growth rate, but the Ghost chili may take up to 160 days from planting to complete the maturation stage for harvesting.

Bhut Jolokia is an interspecific breed, meaning that it is the product of two different species within the same genus, making it challenging to self-pollinate.

Growers generally accept that a Ghost pepper should take between 100 and 120 days between planting and harvest. Although the chili can be harvested in its green stage, the intensity of heat is less, and the flavors more ‘tart’ than the fully matured chili.

Will Ghost Peppers Continue to Ripen off the Plant? How Long Does This Take?

Ghost peppers will still ripen and get hotter even after being harvested under the right conditions.

The chili’s burn is directly related to its capsaicin content. Capsaicin, or 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, is one of several alkaloids called capsaicinoids that cause a burning sensation when swallowed. Experts suggest that chili peppers produce these alkaloids as a defense mechanism against certain mammals and fungi.

Capsaicin is present in the tissue that holds the chili seeds, or the inner membranes, and is evident to a lesser degree in the plant’s fruit.

In a scientific study conducted in Ethiopia, several chili species showed a substantial increase in these volatile alkaloids after harvesting, most notably those stored at an ambient temperature. The capsaicin content increased by an average of 2.3 percent at the peak of twelve days at ambient storage, which was 16 percent higher than those stored in an evaporative cooler.

This intensifying of alkaloids shows that Ghost peppers will still ripen and get hotter even after being harvested under the right conditions. Some simple ways to ripen Ghost peppers is to leave them on a sunny windowsill or store them with a ripe tomato or apple. Both methods will likely take a few days or a week.

Here are Some of my Favorite Gardening Products and Tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful for growing some new plants in your home or garden. Here are some products I like that I hope you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, and I am compensated for referring traffic. But in all honesty, these are the exact product that I use or recommend to everyone.

Soil: For high-quality soil, I really like Fox Farm Ocean Forest. I do all my growing in containers and this soil has worked great for me. I like how they use nutrient-rich contents like earthworm castings, bat guano, and composted crab and fish.

Fertilizer: Currently I am using a seaweed-based organic fertilizer call Neptunes Harvest. This is a great milder fertilizer option if you want to use something organic. If you want a more powerful fertilizer, I recommend Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio, lots of people have had great growing success with this product.

Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are one of the most useful gardening tools to have because it’s important to prune your plants to keep them healthy. The pruning shears I recommend are the Gonicc 8’’ pruning shears. I like them because they are built sturdy and work both on bigger and smaller plants, so you don’t need to have multiple pruning shears.

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