While you can blindly taste a pepper to determine its heat, that's not a recommended method—ouch! Instead, use the Scoville scale. Pepper heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units, with the hottest peppers having the highest numbers. You'll see these numbers listed for all our hot peppers.
The ranges of Scoville Heat Units (SHU) typically used to call a pepper mild, medium, hot, or extra hot are:
- Mild (100 to 2,500)
- Medium (2,500 to 30,000)
- Hot (30,000 to 100,000)
- Extra Hot (100,000 to 300,000)
- Extremely Hot (above 300,000)
Here's a glance at heat levels for some popular hot peppers, according to the Scoville scale:
- Ghost Extremely Hot (over 1,000,000)
- Habanero Extra Hot (100,000 to 300,000)
- Tabasco Hot (30,000 to 50,000)
- Cayenne Hot (30,000 to 50,000)
- Jalapeño Medium (2,500 to 5,000)
- Poblano (Ancho) Mild (1,000 to 2,000)
How does the Scoville test work?
Devised by Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912, the Scoville test was the first lab approach to measure heat in peppers. In this method, which was widely used until recently, human subjects taste a pepper sample and record the heat level. The samples are then diluted in the lab until heat is no longer detected by the tasters. This dilution is called the Scoville Heat Unit. The method, though, is subjective, as it depends on the taster's palate and sensitivity. Many now believe that a process developed by scientists to determine a pepper's Scoville scale rating by measuring the presence of alkaloids, which cause the heat, is a more accurate assessment.
What's the hottest pepper?
Pepper breeders are trying all the time to surpass the hottest levels and claim the title of World's Hottest Pepper. The current record holder is the Carolina Reaper, with a palate-scorching official rating of 1,641,300 Scoville Heat Units. Bonnie Plants is proud to be the exclusive grower of Carolina Reaper starter plants!
Plant genetics determines pepper heat levels, but environment also plays a role. Hot peppers grow hottest during drought and high temperatures. Allow hot peppers to ripen fully on the vine to obtain their greatest heat potential—the longer you wait before harvesting, the hotter they'll be.
Grow your own hot peppers
Whether you like hot peppers with face-melting heat or mild varieties that subtly warm your palate, growing them at home is easy. To help you get started, we put together some of the finest varieties for adding deep flavor, color, and texture to your next entree–the heat level is up to you.
A word of caution for you intense heat enthusiasts: Always handle extremely hot peppers with gloves and avoid touching your skin and eyes.
Carolina Reaper (1,641,300 SHU): The world's hottest pepper. Use this tongue-scorcher with caution in chili and sauces, or cure them to make a fiery pepper powder.
Red Ghost Pepper (1,000,000+ SHU): One of the hottest peppers in the world. Its glossy, bright red fruits are alluring, but a tiny amount goes a very long way.
Habanero Hot Pepper (100,000-300,000 SHU): The vibrant green and orange fruits add beauty wherever this pepper grows. Perfect for containers and small gardens.
Red Hot Chili Pepper (40,000-50,000 SHU): Vibrant clusters of green and red peppers will add beauty to your vegetable garden, and excellent yields ensure you're never short on heat in the kitchen. Part of the Foodie Fresh line available exclusively at Lowe's.
Tabasco Hot Pepper (30,000-50,000 SHU): This heirloom pepper is easy to grow and is a prolific producer. An excellent choice for sauces.
Hot Cayenne Pepper (30,000-50,000 SHU): Hailing from South America, this popular hot pepper is great for canning, pickling, oil or vinegar infusions, and drying.
Spicy Slice Jalapeno Pepper (4,000 SHU): This hybrid hot pepper grows longer than a traditional jalapeno and matures early in the season. Part of the Foodie Fresh line available exclusively at Lowe's.
Hot Burrito Pepper (3,000-6,000 SHU): A bold and compact variety that bears gorgeous fruit that grows upright. Perfect for containers. Part of the Harvest Select line available exclusively at The Home Depot.
Early Flame Jalapeno Pepper (1,500-4,000 SHU): This abundant producer bears fruit early in the season and gets hotter as it ripens, so you can harvest them based on how much heat you want. Part of the Harvest Select line available exclusively at The Home Depot.
Anaheim Hot Pepper (500-2,500 SHU): Harvest these delicious peppers when they're green to add subtle warmth to dishes or let them ripen to a deep red for medium heat. They're an excellent choice for charring on the grill or drying.
Poblano-Ancho Hot Pepper (1,000-2,000 SHU): This thick-walled pepper has a mild heat that makes it wonderfully versatile in the kitchen. You definitely want to try them stuffed.
Want even more peppers? View all of the Bonnie Plants® pepper varieties here.