Carolina Reapers are a hot topic nowadays. These extremely spicy peppers have only recently entered the spice-scene, first being cultivated in 2013. But their relative infancy hasn’t stopped the Carolina Reaper from becoming one of the most talked-about peppers out there, and for good reason.
But if you haven’t heard of the Carolina Reaper before, or simply want to find out a bit more about them, you’ve come to the right place!
Here we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about these super-spicy peppers, including where they come from, what they can be used for, and why they’ve gotten so popular in recent years.
Carolina Reapers – The Rundown
In case you’ve missed the buzz, the Carolina Reaper is the world’s spiciest pepper, crowned by the Guinness Book of Records in 2017. It was created by combining two other hot peppers – the red habañero, and the ghost pepper (which at one point also held the title of World’s Hottest Pepper).
Carolina Reapers are a small, round, and bumpy pepper. They are bright red and typically have a pointed ‘tail’ on their bottom. But don’t let their small size fool you – the Carolina Reaper has become infamous for just how spicy it is.
Named after their place of origin, the Carolina Reaper was grown by Ed Currie in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Since its initial cultivation, the Carolina Reaper has experienced a lot of attention and popularity due to its immense heat.
What Makes Carolina Reapers So Spicy?
So why are Carolina Reapers so spicy? To find out, we need to know a bit more about the science behind chilies.
Like all hot peppers, the Carolina Reaper contains a chemical compound called capsaicin. This chemical causes irritation and inflammation of any tissue it comes into contact with, leading to the burning sensation of a hot chili. The higher the concentration of capsaicin in a pepper, the spicier it will be.
The spiciness of a chili pepper is measured on the Scoville scale, which measures the density of capsaicin in the pepper. The Carolina Reaper measures in at a whopping 2.2 million SHU (Scoville Heat Units).
To put that into perspective, the Carolina Reaper is over 200 times as hot as a jalapeño, and almost 1 million SCU more than the Trinidad Scorpion, which the Carolina Reaper replaced as the world’s hottest pepper.
You may be wondering why anyone would want to eat something so spicy. While some people challenge themselves to eat one of these incredibly hot peppers whole, there are actually several ways to make Carolina Reapers more palatable to the regular person.
Carolina Reapers aren’t just full of spice – they’re also full of flavor! Although their heat can be very overpowering, if you’re able to tough it out you’ll be left with a strong taste that elevates it above other super-spicy peppers.
The peppers are quite sweet, with an almost fruity flavor. Many peppers with high capsaicin levels can be quite bitter or acidic (like jalapeños or ghost peppers), but the Carolina Reaper benefits from having the sweet habañero as a parent.
If you eat a whole Carolina Reaper, then chances are you won’t be able to taste anything at all. However, reducing the spice or using them as an ingredient will let the full flavor potential of a Carolina Reaper shine through.
Ways To Eat Them
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at some of the ways to eat Carolina Reapers.
One of the most popular uses for Carolina Reapers is in a hot sauce. There are plenty of different hot sauces that advertise themselves based on having these peppers. While hot sauces tend to tone down the Scovilles to make them more palatable, Carolina Reaper hot sauces still pack a hell of a punch.
If you don’t want to use a hot sauce but still want to spice up your cuisine, you can try cooking with Carolina Reapers. The seeds contain the most capsaicin, so removing these will take the edge off the spice if you want to be able to taste the pepper’s natural flavor.
Alternatively, you can grind the peppers and their seeds up into a paste. This can then be added to recipes as you see fit, and can even be frozen to be used over long periods of time.
You can also use the peppers as a garnish. Add a small amount of Carolina Reaper to a bowl of ramen, mix with ginger and garlic for a hot paste, or even pickle some slices to use at your leisure. Whatever you choose to do, these peppers are sure to add a bit of spice to your cooking.
Because of the Carolina Reaper’s increasing notoriety over the last few years, eating a whole pepper (or something which uses it as an ingredient) has become a popular viral challenge. There are a range of products that use the Carolina Reaper which are specifically marketed as a challenge food.
For instance, the ‘One Chip Challenge’, where you eat a corn chip covered in Carolina Reaper seasoning/extract. Not only have challenges like this brought the Carolina Reaper more into the public eye, but it has also prompted an increased use of the pepper as a serious ingredient in spicy cuisine.
The Carolina Reaper has enjoyed a lot of popularity in the last few years. Not only have products like the ‘One Chip Challenge’ or other Carolina Reaper-infused foods put the pepper into the public eye, but eating one whole has become something of a viral trend.
Both popular online celebrities and regular people alike have racked up millions of views for ill-advised attempts to eat these peppers raw, often with predictably strong reactions.
The Youtube series ‘Hot Ones’ involves celebrities being interviewed while eating increasingly hot chicken wings. The final sauce, ‘The Last Dab’, uses the Carolina Reaper as the main ingredient and maintains the massive heat of 2 million SHU.
Predictably, the Carolina Reaper is also a new staple of chili-eating contests. As the name suggests, these competitions involve participants eating their way through various levels of hot peppers until they give up or get sick.
With the Carolina Reaper upping the ante from the Trinidad Scorpion (the previous hottest pepper in the world), chili-eating competitions now have a new, even more daunting finale.
This interest in the Carolina Reaper has pushed the pepper into the mainstream, leading to a rise in popularity and an increase in products and foods using the pepper.
It’s uncertain how much longevity the Carolina Reaper will enjoy as the hottest pepper in the world. The Trinidad Scorpion only held the record for a few years after beating out the Ghost Pepper, until it was overtaken by the Carolina Reaper.
So while it securely holds the title for now, it’s possible that new varieties of pepper will emerge to bump up the Scoville units even further.
In fact, another cultivator has claimed that his ‘Dragon Breath’ chili has achieved even greater levels of heat than the Carolina Reaper, reaching 2.4 million SHU.
However, this has not yet been confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. Meanwhile, Ed Currie has reported growing an even hotter pepper, Pepper X, which reaches a staggering 3.2 million SCU. Again, though, this claim has not yet been verified.
Whether or not the Carolina Reaper will maintain its status as the world’s hottest chili doesn’t take away from the fact that it is an immensely spicy pepper.
So whether you want to use Carolina Reapers in your cooking, add them on the side of a dish, or even attempt to eat a whole one for a (probably ill-advised) challenge, these peppers are here to stay as one of the hottest food trends out there.