Hot chile peppers: the Dark Side of horticulture

About a month ago a friend of mine brought in two zip-loc bags of hot chile peppers. I was surprised to learn that these chiles (Capsicum chinense) hadn’t succumbed to frost/freezing temperatures. I more surprised to learn that one was ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ (the one on the left in the photo) and ‘Ghost’ (the one on the right). ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ weighs in as the 3rd hottest pepper in the world with 1.5 million Scoville Heat Units  and ‘Ghost’ (a.k.a. Bhut Jolokia) takes 4th place with 1 million SHU (http://www.chilepepperinstitute.org/content/files/Top%2010%20Hottest%20Chile%20Peppers.pdf). The hottest pepper in the world with over 2 million SHU is ‘Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’ (http://www.chilepepperinstitute.org/content/files/trinidad_moruga_scorpion_pepper_hottest.pdf). As a point of reference, the relatively “mild” Orange Habanero takes 9th place with 250,000 SHU.

'Trinidad Scorpion' (left) and 'Ghost' (right) chile peppers.

‘Trinidad Scorpion’ (left) and ‘Ghost’ (right) chile peppers.

As you know, capsaicinoids, a group of acrid, volatile alkaloids, are chiefly responsible for the “heat” in hot peppers. Interestingly, .the pungency of a single variety can vary from one grower’s field to another. Much of the evidence is anecdotal, involving speculation about degree days, soil type, moisture levels, and nighttime temperatures.  So far, e

xperiments have revealed that stressing the roots of peppers by flooding causes greater pungency, as does providing extra nitr

ogen (contrary to the notion that low soil fertility is responsible).  For more on this research, vist The Chile Pepper Institute at www.chilepepperinstitute.org.

But back to these super hot chile peppers. After having been “burned” by Orange Habanero, I don’t know why I accepted ‘Trinidad Scorpion’ and ‘Ghost’. Perhaps out of fear for my family, I kept these hot peppers in my office. As I watch them shrivel and blacken, I wonder why I’d want to grow  these peppers next summer. Anything above 100,000 SHU is unpalatable to me, but I’m attracted to their appearance and their inherent danger. Perhaps I’m venturing to the Dark Side….

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