Carolina Reaper Guide: Heat, Flavor, Pairings, And More

The Carolina Reaper is a super-hot chili pepper cultivated by Ed Currie, who runs PuckerButt Pepper Company in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It was recognized by the Guinness World Records as the hottest chili pepper in the world until 2023 (beaten by another extreme chili by Ed Currie, the Pepper X.) The Carolina Reaper averages around 1,641,183 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), with peak levels of over 2.2 million SHU.

The Carolina Reaper pepper has a bulbous, wrinkled shape, and the scarlet red fruit often ending in a sharp tail, giving it a wicked look. Despite its extreme heat, it is known to have a sweet and fruity flavor, which makes it a popular choice for extreme hot sauces. It’s always recommended to handle this pepper with extreme caution due to its high capsaicin content.

Dried Carolina Reapers by Unpretentious Baker, 25 count
When dried, Carolina Reapers add some smokiness to that sweetness and extreme heat. Reapers are excellent for use in hot sauces, where the sweetness complements many fruity ingredients. Though caution: Handle with care.

Last update on 2024-07-14. We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. 

Carolina Reaper chilies, showing their stinger-like tail

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
UseCulinary
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 milder than the mildest Carolina Reaper.

Let’s compare it to another popular super-hot chili, the ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia.) The ghost tips the scales at a median heat of 948,214 SHU, while the median heat of the Carolina Reaper is 1.8 million. So, the Reaper is nearly double the heat of the infamous Bhut.

This level of heat was unsurpassed for many years. In November 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records crowned the Carolina Reaper as the hottest pepper in the world, knocking the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion down to #2 in the ranks. It reined for nearly a decade, until its super-hot cousin, the 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.

Carolina Reaper planting
Carolina Reaper, on the vine

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 one and a half to two inches in total length. Its shape is bulbous and pockmarked, so this chili looks devilish, fitting of the name.

In terms of taste, the Carolina Reaper has a sweetness (somewhat fruity) to it. Ed Currie and Puckerbutt grow their super-hots with an eye to flavor, not just heat. Though it’s the heat that’s the obvious star here.

Cooking with Carolina Reapers

First, a warning: this is a scorching chili. Eating it raw is never 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 look on YouTube.

One of the best use cases for the Carolina Reaper is in hot sauces, where it can add a significant kick, even when diluted. The Reaper’s fruity flavor profile can complement many different types of hot sauces, from tangy vinegar-based ones to those with a sweet or smoky undertone.

You can also use it generally to add spiciness to any dish, like you would cayenne pepper. This is common with foods like spicy chilies and salsas. But remember, a little goes a long way with this chili, like all super-hots. No matter if you’re using fresh or ground Reaper, the tiniest pinch can add intense spiciness to a dish. Start modestly with your Carolina Reaper use and increase as needed. A little of this pepper goes a long, long way.

More tips

  • When cooking with Carolina Reapers, it’s critical to respect this super-hot. Wear gloves when handling. 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.
  • 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 its removal provides a noticeable difference. Though, with the Reaper, the heat will still be much hotter than most peppers, so still handle with caution.
  • 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.

Common Carolina Reaper Ingredient Pairings

  • Honey: Honey can be a great pairing with the Carolina Reaper due to its natural sweetness. It helps to counterbalance the Reaper’s intense heat, while also complementing its fruity flavor.
  • Mango: The sweet and tangy flavor of mangoes pairs well with the Carolina Reaper. This tropical fruit can help to mellow out the pepper’s extreme heat, while also enhancing its fruity undertones.
  • Lime: Lime’s acidity and fresh flavor can help to cut through the heat of the Carolina Reaper. It also adds a refreshing twist to the pepper’s sweet and fruity flavor.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes have a mild sweetness and acidity that can help to balance out the Reaper’s heat. They also have a robust flavor that can stand up to the pepper’s intense taste. This pairing is most common in salsas.
  • Garlic: Garlic’s strong, pungent flavor can hold its own against the Carolina Reaper. It also has a savory quality that can complement the pepper’s sweet and fruity notes.
  • Onions: Onions have a sweet and tangy flavor that can help to offset the heat of this chili.
  • Cilantro: Cilantro’s fresh and slightly citrusy flavor can help to lighten the Carolina Reaper’s intense heat. It also adds a layer of complexity to the pepper’s fruity flavor.
  • Pineapple: Pineapple’s sweet and tart flavor can help to counterbalance the Carolina Reaper’s heat. It also pairs well with the pepper’s fruity undertones, creating a tropical flavor profile that’s common in hot sauces.
  • Coconut Milk: The creamy and slightly sweet flavor of coconut milk can help temper the extreme heat of a super-hot like the Reaper. This is a common pairing in curries.
  • Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate’s bitterness and sweetness can also help to balance the Carolina Reaper’s heat. The flavor, too, works well with the pepper’s natural fruitiness.

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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on May 14, 2024 to include new content.
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tarunkrsnadas

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 »