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Ranking the World's Hottest Peppers

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What Is the Hottest Pepper In the World?

Peppers are rated according to Scoville units, a measurement of the ingredient, capsaicin, that give a hot pepper its burn. This article presents some of the hottest peppers as rated by the Scoville Scale. Some of these peppers are actually dangerous to humans, and if you're thinking of trying any of them, make sure that you have someone with you and that you have health insurance.

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The Hottest Peppers: The Scoville Heat Scale

The Scoville scale is a measurement of the spicy heat (or piquance) of a chili pepper. The number measures the amount of a chemical called capsaicin, which stimulates nerve endings in the skin, especially in the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and eyes.

The scale is named after the person who created it, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville. His method, devised in 1912, makes it possible to directly measure capsaicinoid content.

This Guy Tries to Keep Down the Brutal Ghost Chili

Understanding Scoville Units

Scoville units measure the amount of capsaicin, which is the caustic chemical that gives hot peppers their burn. A green bell pepper from the grocery store is at the bottom of the scale and is not spicy at all to most peoples' taste. At the highest end of the scale is pure capsaicin crystals, which is essentially a poison and scores a 15 million on the Scoville scale:. For a little perspective on that, army-grade pepper spray measures about three million. The peppers featured in this article are all somewhere in between, and are arranged in order of increasing intensity -- at the bottom of the list you will find the hands-down winner of the world's hottest pepper competition, as well as some brave souls who allowed themselves to be recorded as they tried to eat the little monsters. CAUTION: some of the peppers here can actually be dangerous, and idiots using hot peppers for "pranks," or to otherwise hurt unsuspecting victims have been been arrested for assault. Be careful!

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Hot, But Not Too Hot

Chances are good you've come across this pepper and survived intact. It possesses a sharp, pungent spiciness that rarely overwhelms, though fresh-picked, the jalapeno can be pretty searing. Used in almost every part of the world as a cooking spice, the jalapeno is often what makes your hot dish hot, no matter where you are in the world.

It's so ubiquitous that other peppers are often measured by how the compare to the jalapeno. Some of the world's hottest peppers are thousands of times hotter than the jalapeno!

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Serrano peppers are a little like the jalapeno's big brother -- they're longer, brighter in flavor (some say they're bitter), and about 5 times hotter, which still is not all that hot. It's used in salsa and hot sauces, and is pretty easy to find -- your local supermarket probably has a bin of them, and they are not expensive.

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The cayenne is the hot pepper that goes into chili powder -- you probably have a supply in your kitchen spice rack. The cayenne is surprisingly hot, although still not anything near the world's hottest peppers, the ghosts and the reapers (these beasts will be discussed below). This is a pretty, well-formed pepper that has become a staple of cooking, much like the jalapeno.

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This little pepper is sometimes called "the Flea." One to watch out for -- one of the hottest commonly used peppers, sometimes used as a stand-in for the cayenne in cooking and sauces, it's surprisingly hot despite its innocuous appearance. My grandfather used to tell the story of munching down a handful of these in Mexico once, thinking they were capers -- not a mistake he was likely to make twice.

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It used to be that the habanero was the official world's hottest pepper, but since then there have been many competitors sporting outrageous Scoville numbers. It's still very hot, almost 100 times hotter than the average jalapeno. Be careful around this pepper, which is available in almost every supermarket -- getting just a little juice in your eyes or a cut could cause your some serious pain.

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The Datil is comparable to the habanero, but there are varieties that place the datil up there with the world's hottest peppers. It's not often seen in supermarkets, but can be found in specialty pepper markets or online.

What Happens When You Eat a Datil Pepper?

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This is the variety of habanero that was once considered the world's hottest pepper. It's a gorgeous pepper that combines the cool shape of the habanero with a deep ruby red color. The red savina was in the Guinness Book of World Records until it was unseated by the ghost pepper.

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The ghost pepper has benefited from both a brutal amount of capsaicin and a really great name. The Pepper Formerly Known as Bhut Jolokia has become one of the standards of pepper heat, with a tectonic reading on the Scoville scale that makes it 400 times more powerful than a jalapeno. It's so hot that, according to some sources, India has used the ghost pepper to make military grade tear gas, and people who live where it grows sometimes smear it on fence posts to deter animals from trampling their crops.

A US Marine Takes on a Ghost Pepper

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This beautiful variety of the ghost pepper allegedly has a smoky, almost sweet flavor -- but it's a little hard to see how you could tell that when your mouth is being incinerated by its weapons-grade heat. Among the world's hottest peppers, the chocolate bhut jolokia is one of the coolest.

Chocolate 7-Pot Pepper -- 1,000,000 to 1,800,000 Scoville Units

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A rare breed, this is called the 7 Pot because it is rumored that one pepper can add heat and flavor to 7 pots of stew. There are many varieties of 7-pot at this point, but they are all incredibly high on the Scoville scale.

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"It is amazing how a small pod can hold so much heat, not to mention that the nutritional profile of a chile surpasses many other fruits and vegetables. Each chile variety possesses it's own heat level, as well as a unique flavor, and the beautiful colors of the chile can rival an exotic flower" -- Jim Duffy, the man who bred the Moruga Scorpion.

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This is the world's hottest pepper, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The most potent individuals of this pepper have more capsaicin than pepper spray, and are almost 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeno. There's really no reason to eat one of these, unless you want to wind up like the guy in video (below), who eats one without knowing what it is...

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Just when you thought the Carolina Reaper was the undisputed world's hottest pepper, along comes this little number. The Dragon's Breath is small, but the more intense examples can hit 2.48 million Scoville heat units, which is substantially worse than pepper spray. According to one source, was developed as a natural topical anesthetic for people who are allergic to standard options.