Carolina Reaper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Uses

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What are Carolina Reaper peppers?

The Carolina Reaper was the official hottest pepper in the world for nearly a decade (November 2013 until October 2023) until the Pepper X dethroned it. With a heat range from 1,400,000 to 2,200,000 Scoville heat units, the Reaper is hotter than many defensive pepper sprays and it dwarfs many of the other super-hots among the hottest chilies. That’s insanity in edible form. Yet, behind this extreme super-heat is a surprising sweetness that’s perfect for enhancing hot sauces and other spicy foods.

Carolina Reaper chilies, showing their stinger-like tail

Table of Contents

Carolina Reaper fast facts

Scoville heat units (SHU)1,400,000 – 2,200,000
Median heat (SHU)1,800,000
Jalapeño reference point175 to 880 times hotter
Capsicum speciesChinense
OriginUnited States
SizeApproximately 1.5 to 2 inches long, stinger tail
FlavorSweet, Fruity

How hot is a Carolina Reaper?

Eyes rolling to the back of your head hot, that’s how hot. Carolina Reaper’s range from 1,400,000 Scoville heat units to a blistering 2,200,000. That top end is just as hot as or hotter than standard pepper spray. And comparing it to a jalapeño is just silly. Even the hottest jalapeño will come in at around 175 times weaker than the mildest Carolina Reaper. It tips the scales at about 200,000 SHU on average above the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. To give that reference, 200,000 SHU is the heat of an average habanero pepper, so it’s a significant bump up to what was already crazy hot.

In November 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records crowned the Carolina Reaper as the new reigning champ of super-hot peppers, knocking the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion down to #2 in the ranks. It reined for nearly a decade, until its super-hot cousin, Pepper X, officially dethroned it as the hottest pepper in the world in October 2023.

Who discovered the Carolina Reaper?

Smokin’ Ed Currie is the grower of this super hot chili. His PuckerButt Pepper Company based in South Carolina developed the reaper as a hybrid of a red habanero strain and a Naja Viper pepper – another pepper that was once the hottest pepper in the world. He was seeking to develop a sweet pepper with a little more punch. What he got was record-breaking. Notably, Smokin’ Ed and PuckerButt are also the cultivators behind the Pepper X and the Apollo pepper, the Reaper’s most-notable challengers for the throne.

Ed Currie’s pepper-growing career has an amazing back story. He began growing peppers because of his interest in the health benefits of hot peppers, especially in combating diseases. His family had a history of cancer, and, to be as preventative as possible, he began researching communities with low levels of disease. He noted that there was something in common among these communities: hot peppers were a staple of their diets. This sparked a passion that’s led to something pretty special, and Ed has often donated his chili peppers for cancer research.

A fun fact: The Carolina Reaper went by a much less potent name during its cultivation and development from 2011 until 2013: HP22B. This is a simply an acronym covering important plant details for Ed the grower – Higher Power, pot number 22, plant B.

What does this chili taste like and look like?

Like the Naja Viper and the Trinidad Scorpion, the Carolina Reaper has a scorpion-like tail. It’s a red pepper about 1.5 to 2 inches in total length.

In terms of taste, this is likely the sweetest super-hot pepper you are going to find. In fact, the Puckerbutt Pepper Company grows them that way. They want their peppers to not only challenge the taste buds but to also enhance the flavor of food. There’s a lot more flavor to the Carolina Reaper then you’ll find in most extremely hot peppers. In fact, the extreme hot sauces made from it are quite tasty if you are used to super-hots.

Cooking with Carolina Reapers

First, a warning: this is a scorching chili. Eating it raw is not ever advised. This is an extreme heat that works better diluted into other ingredients. There are lots of hot pepper daredevils that have recorded their experiences eating this hot pepper raw, so it’s easy to see for yourself − just take a look on YouTube.

When cooking with Carolina Reapers, it’s critical to respect this super-hot. Wear gloves when handling, and it’s advised to also wear kitchen goggles to protect your eyes and a mask to protect your mouth and throat. Do not treat this hot pepper like a typical medium-heat culinary chili. Even handling it whole and uncut with your bare hands can lead to severe chili burn.

Get to know how to treat chili burn if it does happen. You’ll want to take immediate action with a chili this hot. Read our post on treating chili burn. As well, learn how to treat chili burn in the eye, as it’s an incredibly sensitive area. Our post on relieving pain from jalapeño pepper in the eye holds true for any chili pepper.

More tips

  • Remove the membrane from your chili pepper to remove much of its heat. The white pith holds much of the capsaicin in any chili, and it’s removal provides a noticeable difference.
  • Start modestly with your Carolina Reaper use and increase as needed. A little of this pepper goes a long, long way. A small sliver or two can spice up a pot of chili a lot more than you’d expect. So, it’s best to start small and go from there.
  • Read our post on cooking peppers and what may make them hotter or milder. There are methods of cooking that can increase or decrease the overall heat of a chili. If you’re cooking with Reapers, you’re an extreme heat fan, so knowing the ins and outs here will keep your pepper as hot as you expect.

Growing Carolina Reaper peppers

You can certainly grow these chilies at home. For more information, read our Carolina Reaper Planting Guide that covers the basics that you need to know. Just note, the same holds true while growing Reapers as it does with cooking them. You need to take extreme care with their handling. Even whole, they can provide you with a wicked case of chili burn.

Where can you buy Carolina Reaper?

This is not a pepper you’re going to find at your local store very often. If you want it fresh, you’ll want to look to specialty stores or chili farms. Or if you prefer, you can find Carolina Reaper hot sauces, seeds, and more online from vendors like Amazon or specialized gardening sites. We also sell it in powdered form from our Spicery.

Make sure you climb up to this level. Don’t jump to the Carolina Reaper from a jalapeño heat tolerance level or even a cayenne tolerance level. They don’t live in the same zip code. In fact, they aren’t even on the same planet. The pepper scale is a journey. If you want to reach and really enjoy the Carolina Reaper heights, you need to work your way up. It’s definitely not a pepper for everyone, but for those that love it as hot as the sun, welcome home.

  1. Whole Dried Carolina Reapers
    $11.99 ($1.00 / Count)

    In dried form, these Carolina Reapers will last quite a long time. But just as using fresh, take care in the handling. The extreme heat remains the same. This pack is from Wicked Tickle.

    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    02/18/2024 05:15 am GMT
  2. Pepper Joe’s Carolina Reaper Seeds
    $9.89 ($0.99 / Count)

    You can definitely grow Carolina Reaper at home, just take care with their handling, even when whole and on the vine. Pepper Joe's offers excellent seeds, 10+ in this pack.

    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

    02/18/2024 03:39 am GMT

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on October 18, 2023 to include new content.
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Believe it or not Matt, I recently found Carolina Reapers for sale at a local supermarket and decided to see what all the kerfuffle was about. I gingerly (sorry) cut a thin slice and tasted it. Wow! Best chilli I ever ate. Delicious, fruity, sweet but the heat – hottest thing I ever ate. I’ve learned that one quarter of a Reaper is a bit too much to eat on a salad sandwich, one fifth is better. Habaneros are hot but tolerable but I don’t like the taste of habs very much; they all have their purpose though. Reapers make… Read more »