by Matt Gibson
If you want to grow your own ghost peppers, be careful. How hot is a ghost pepper? Depending on the variety, ghost peppers clock in anywhere between 855,000 and 1,041,427 Scoville units. A jalapeno, for comparison, can rate anywhere between 2,500 and 5,000 units. The habanero, a significantly hotter pepper than the jalapeno, can induce sweating, shaking and even hyperventilation, and it still falls on the scale lower than the ghost pepper, coming in anywhere between 100,000 to 500,000 Scoville units. So, a ghost pepper that is on the higher end of the scale is twice as hot as the hottest habanero a person can bite. Just a pinch of ghost pepper extract can make a person cry. It’s easy to see why this flagrant favorite has become so popular among gardeners who crave spice.
That said, the ghost pepper is not the hottest pepper in the world. That honor goes to the Carolina Reaper, which perches atop the Scoville scale at 2,200,000 heat units. The ghost pepper is actually the seventh hottest pepper in the known world. Don’t worry about the six peppers that are hotter than the ghost pepper. Unlike the delightfully hot ghost pepper, the six hotter peppers are not commonly ingested—and for good reason.
The main ingredient in chilli peppers that causes the spicy sensations is capsaicin, which can have some health benefits in moderate amounts but is actually a neurotoxin. A 1980 study found that the amount of capsaicin contained in three pounds of ghost peppers could be lethal to a 150-pound human being. (Of course, no human being with their wits about them would ingest three pounds of ghost peppers all at once.) In 2009, scientists from India conducted a study which led them to suggest the weaponization of ghost peppers and other extremely hot chillies. Ghost pepper extract in powder form is widely used in India today as an elephant repellent.
Imagine growing a pepper that is so hot that it can be used on a battlefield in the form of grenades or pepper spray—so hot it can stop an elephant. If imagining this scenario made your heart beat just a little faster, ghost peppers may be the crop for you. Ghost peppers are probably the most popular of the extreme peppers. This is mainly due to their flavor. Once you get past the heat level (and as long as you use an appropriately conservative amount), the flavor of a ghost pepper is actually quite enjoyable.
Used very sparingly, a hint of ghost pepper is the essential ingredient to a number of spicy recipes. Once you’ve grown a batch or two of your own, you can also create and jar your own ghost pepper salsa to enjoy all year long and to share with friends and family as gifts.
Types of Ghost Peppers
Bhut jolokia, commonly known as the ghost pepper, is actually a hybrid of two other, lesser known peppers, called “Capsicum chinense” and “Capsicum frutescens.” There are over 50,000 varieties of hot peppers out there, and there are 79 different varieties of those peppers that are commonly grown and harvested for consumption.
The most common ghost peppers are bright red, but they also come in different shades of orange, yellow, and green, as well as less commonly seen pepper colors, such as brown, purple, and white. There are far too many varieties of ghost pepper to list them all here, but if you are new to growing hot peppers and want to grow a few types of ghost peppers in the near future, here’s a handy list of our favorites to get you started.
Red Bhut Jolokia
This is the most commonly known variety of ghost pepper, and it’s also known as Naga jolokia and Bih jolokia. This variety averages 1,041,427 on the Scoville scale of spiciness. The peppers grow to be two to three inches long. One of the hottest varieties, the red Bhut jolokia ghost pepper starts out green and only turns red once it has ripened. This pepper’s flavor is smoky with a slightly fruity aftertaste.
Yellow Bhut Jolokia
This yellow variety of ghost pepper is one of the few out there that is not a hybrid but a naturally occurring variant in the U.S. Similar in flavor to the red version, this yellow ghost pepper also starts out green and turns to yellow when the peppers have matured.
Chocolate Bhut Jolokia
The chocolate ghost pepper takes a long time to germinate (up to six weeks), but these little guys are well worth the wait. Their bright aroma teases out the complex flavor profile. These peppers are both sweet and smoky. If you have to choose just one ghost pepper to grow, these would be our recommendation.
Peach Bhut Jolokia
The peach variety is also a mutation of the red ghost pepper. The pods tend to grow a bit larger than other varieties, usually reaching four to six inches in length once ripened. The peppers start out green and turn a beautiful light pink or peach when they start to ripen. If left on the vine, they may turn bright orange. Peach ghost peppers are just as hot as the red variety, and they are said to have a balanced and fruity aftertaste.
White Bhut Jolokia
White ghost pepper plants are significantly larger than most other varieties, and they can reach heights of three feet or more. The pods start out green and finish off-white, producing a strong, smoky flavor with hints of citrus and fruit.
Purple Bhut Jolokia
The purple ghost pepper is typically not as hot as most of the other ghost pepper varieties. These peppers are said to be similar in heat level to an orange habanero. The pods are generally smaller than other varieties as well. If exposed to direct sunlight, the peppers will turn from green to purple. If left on the vine, the purple hues begin to give way to red.
Growing Conditions for Ghost Peppers
If you live in an area with high humidity and lots of heat, growing ghost peppers is going to be a walk in the park. These natives of India are big fans of sunlight and thrive in locations where they are exposed to prolonged periods of high humidity and heat, just like they get in their native lands.
If you don’t live in a warm climate area, your best bet is to grow your ghost peppers indoors, or in a greenhouse, where a temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit can be maintained. If you grow ghost peppers in containers, provide them with a well-draining medium. If you plant them directly in the ground, make sure the soil is amended with lots of organic material, especially if the soil is sandy. Ghost peppers prefer a loamy soil with a pH around 6.0 to 6.8 for optimal nutrient absorption.
Whether growing in pots or directly in your garden beds, ghost peppers require a regular watering schedule. Around three quarts of water should be given to each plant two times per week. More frequent watering may be needed for peppers grown in pots.
At least six hours of sunlight per day is needed. A bit of shade during scorching summer periods is also recommended. Plants will grow anywhere from 36 to 42 inches tall, and each plant can produce well over 200 peppers in a single year.
How to Plant Ghost Peppers
Seeds will require a very warm soil (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit) for around 35 days. Soak ghost pepper seeds in hydrogen peroxide for one minute before planting. Use full sunlight fluorescent bulbs, and maintain a steady growing environment that’s consistent in both temperature and humidity.
Situate one plant in each compartment of a seed starting tray indoors about 10-14 weeks prior to the last frost in your area. Keep seeds and young plants out of direct sunlight until the first sprouts start to shoot up.
Germination should begin in seven to 21 days but could take up to 40 days in some cases. Harden off seedlings before transplanting them outdoors. Gradually introduce seedling pots to the sunlight by exposing them to an hour of sun per day at first and increasing the exposure period by an hour each day. After 10 to 12 days, leave your plants outside overnight. After one to three nights of full outdoor exposure, transplant ghost peppers into the ground, allowing two to three feet of space in between each plant.
Care of Ghost Peppers
Fertilize newly planted ghost pepper plants, and repeat feeding two or three times during the growing season using a controlled release fertilizer. During the growing season, provide at least three months of temperatures over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Water ghost pepper plants frequently, keeping soil moist but never soggy.
Harvesting Ghost Peppers
Once your peppers have turned from their original green tint to their desired color (which varies based on the variety you selected to grow), it’s time to harvest your peppers. Popping them off the vine will encourage new pods to grow back in their place. Wear gloves to protect sensitive skin when harvesting.
Ghost Peppers Garden Pests and Diseases
Fortunately, ghost pepper plants are highly resistant to garden pests. Even insects know better than to dance with dragons lest they risk getting burned. Ghost pepper plants that are grown in soil that has insufficient drainage could suffer from rot.
Videos About Growing Ghost Peppers?
This tutorial teaches you how to grow ghost peppers in pots or other garden containers:
Check out this video for tips on harvesting ghost peppers and saving their seeds:
Check out this funny spot featuring two very irresponsible people attempting to eat a ghost pepper raw. (Do not attempt this at home—or anywhere, really—it’s about the worst decision you could ever make.):
Want to Learn More About Growing Ghost Peppers?
Food & Wine covers What is ghost pepper? – bhut jolokia
Gardening Know How covers Growing Ghost Chili Peppers
Grow Hot Peppers covers The Ghost Pepper: Taste All the Colors of the Rainbow
SFGate Homeguides covers How Many Peppers Does a Ghost Pepper Plant Yield?
House of Scoville covers The Scoville Heat Scale – How hot is this chilli?!
Medical Daily covers Can Eating The World’s Hottest Pepper Kill You? How Spicy Foods Affect The Body
PepperScale covers The Ghost Pepper Planting Guide: A To Zing
PexPeppers covers How To Grow Ghost Peppers
Vegetable Gardener covers Grow Ghost Peppers for Heat and Flavor
I am currently trialing ghost peppers here in the Republic of Panama. I also have Carolina Reapers and also the Dragon’s Breath. Some friends of mine were kind enough to share this seed with me. I planted seed outdoors at the end of December which is the month that our dry season starts. It is unbearably hot here now. I tried to find information on growing Super-hots in tropical area’s with out much success. My plants are now a little over 2 months old and are already beginning to set fruits. The sun is so intense now that I have to shade the plants. Leaf tips are curling and warping and obvious damage is easy to see on some of the plants. I cannot say how this project will go at this point but I can say that growing super-hots is much different than growing normal Chinense or Annuums. Real slow growth. Very sensitive plants. Subject to sun damage and burn. Subject to wind burn also. Plants do not harden well in my climate. I had heard that Ghost peppers come from a hot climate. I doubt seriously that they come from a climate as hot as where I am growing them now. Temps are in the middle 90’s daily. Day length is very short here year round also at about 11.5 hours each day. Climate is harsh and severe and unforgiving. It appears that I will be enjoying a harvest which is good news. Oh, by the way, we have local peppers here in Panama that are much more tolerant of the harsh climate and are much easier to grow than Bhut Jolokia. I don’t recommend this pepper to beginners. If you are new to growing chili’s try growing something like Cayenne or Tobasco.
Diane Wolter says
i have a chilli bhut jolokia [Ghost] plant and i want to know when to prune it. I also want to grow some from seeds. Do i need to dry the seeds first? I live i Adelaide South Australia ad it gets cold in our winter. I have a hot house. Any help & advice will be much appreciated. Mrs Diane Wolter.
Opinions vary on pruning super-hot peppers. You can prune them any way you want. I don’t prune them because it sets them back. You have good seed stock you do not need to prune the plants. Ghost peppers already take 4 to 5 months to produce so don’t set them back further by pruning them. If you have low humidity its easy to dry the seed. Split the ripe peppers and take out the placenta where the seeds are attached. I seperate the seeds from the placenta. Put the seeds in a little strainer and rinse them off with water real good. I put the seeds on a plate in front of a small fan and let them dry. In front of a fan it only takes about a 4 days. Unless the humidity is high. It will take longer. In real high humidity its harder to dry them and sometimes mold will start on the seed. Discard the seed if this happens. I also use my oven to dry the seed at very low heat. You want to use as little heat as you can to dry the seed and watch over them. Save more seed than you need. Once you get them dried put a few in a moist paper towel and then in a plastic bag to germinate test them. In a warm climate you should see germination in about 5 to 7 days. Don’t freeze the seed unless you are positive you have dried them completely. I save my seed in the fridge. I put them in a sandwich bag before storing them in a large gallon size bag with the rest of my seeds.
We planted 2 plants in late April. We are now seeing several peppers on the plants with more blooms setting! Not sure what my 12 yo son was thinking when he planted these…a right of passage of some sort? Haha! We shall see! We live in Tennessee, nice hot and humid.
Glen Hamner says
Simple recipe for bhut jolokia. Wash peppers. Split and deseed them. Put in food processor with just enough vinegar to get them chopped up good. Put them in a sauce pan. Add salt and sugar to taste. Add a little vinegar if needed, just enough to almost cover them. Add a couple of chopped garlic cloves too if you want. Bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes. Take off the stove and let cool. Jar this up and put in the fridge. Ready to use in a couple of days. I eat this simple condiment all the time. I call this chili relish. Delicious.