You may have heard of new pepper varieties that have popped up recently. These are hotter than anything that has come before, making you wonder whether they’ve been genetically modified. One of these is the infamous ghost pepper.
Ghost peppers are not genetically modified. Ghost peppers are a naturally occurring type of pepper that form when two other species breed — namely, the Capsicum chinense and Capsicum frutescens. Both peppers are native to Asia.
Keep reading for an in-depth analysis of the cultivation and climate ghost peppers are grown in. I will also explore just how hot the infamous ghost pepper is, the spiciness level of its offspring and rival the Carolina Reaper, and whether any variety of pepper sold in the United States is a GMO product.
Are Ghost Peppers Bred?
Ghost peppers aren’t genetically modified to pack extra spiciness in the product. However, this doesn’t explain how ghost peppers came to be so hot. This begs the question of whether ghost peppers were selectively bred to produce the exceptionally spicy taste.
Ghost peppers are bred. Ghost peppers have been cultivated for centuries by combining two types of pepper native to Asia. Despite the centuries of ghost pepper cultivation, this type of pepper only made its way into the western world in the early 2000s. However, ghost peppers may appear in nature.
The two peppers mixed to produce the ghost pepper share the same natural habitat. As a result, they can meet in the wild and create the hottest natural chili pepper in the world.
Growing ghost peppers isn’t easy, especially when you’re trying to get maximum heat from the chili. Ghost peppers require specific humidity and heat levels that few climates offer, making growing this type of pepper a challenge without the necessary setup and equipment.
Where Did Ghost Peppers Come From?
We’ve established that ghost peppers weren’t developed in a lab by scientists. Instead, they can occur in nature and have been cultivated by humans for a long time. But where and when exactly did people first start growing and tasting ghost peppers?
Ghost peppers came from northeast India, where farmers have cultivated ghost peppers for centuries. However, ghost peppers only appeared on the global market in recent years. Bhut Jolokia is the pepper’s Indian name, where “Bhut” translates to “ghost” in English.
The ghost pepper arrived in North India around the 16th century. It’s unclear where this chili came from, although ghost peppers belong to a Chinese family of chilies that also includes scotch bonnets. Since China and India are relatively close to each other, it’s likely the ghost pepper can trace its origins to one of the oldest civilizations in the world.
In modern times, ghost peppers are cultivated across a number of suitable climates worldwide. However, ghost peppers have only been produced in the west since around 2000.
How Are Ghost Peppers Harvested?
I briefly mentioned that ghost peppers require specific conditions to grow. If you want to try growing one of these chilis for yourself instead of purchasing it from the grocery store or wet market, what else do you need to know other than the peppers that should be combined to create the ghost pepper?
Ghost peppers are typically harvested after about five months. The seeds should grow within a week or two, though it’s also common for them to germinate after a month. Ideally, they should stay indoors about one to two months before the last frost date.
For best results, ghost peppers should be cultivated in climates where the temperature does not exceed 90°F (32°C). You’ll know it’s ready to pick when its color changes from pale red to bright red or green. If you need a more in-depth guide on how to harvest ghost peppers, I’ll point you to Bountiful Gardener’s wonderful article on the subject.
How Hot Are Ghost Peppers?
The Scoville scale was developed in the early 1900s to measure the spiciness of different chili peppers. The Scoville scale scores different foods on a scale that starts at 0 SHU (Scoville heat units) and goes on indefinitely depending on how spicy the substance measured is. So, where do ghost peppers fit in on this scale?
Ghost peppers are 200 to 400 times hotter than jalapenos. Specifically, ghost peppers have 1,001,304 SHU, while jalapenos have a SHU between 2,500 and 5,000.
Ghost peppers have the highest SHU rating of any natural chili pepper and at one time were the hottest chili on earth. Some peppers like the Carolina Reapers are spicier than the Bhut Jolokia but were not discovered or cultivated until recently.
Ghost peppers had such a high SHU that the Indian army has invested in weaponizing the peppers. The Indian military created a type of grenade that includes ghost peppers designed to irritate the skin, eyes, and throat of enemies.
What Are Carolina Reapers Bred From?
If there’s one pepper that can rival (or even exceed) the spiciness of ghost peppers, it’s the Carolina Reaper. There’s a good reason for that, as you’ll see below. Like the ghost pepper, the Carolina Reaper has only appeared in recent years.
Carolina Reapers are bred from ghost peppers and red habanero peppers. Both ghost peppers and red habanero peppers have high Scoville ratings. As a result, their offspring, the Carolina Reaper, is one of the spiciest chili peppers. Carolina reapers have a Scoville rating of 1,641,183 SHU.
The SHU of Carolina Reapers depends on the conditions of the area where it’s cultivated. When grown correctly and fully ripe, the Carolina Reaper can reach a SHU reading of two to three million.
While the Carolina Reaper is not genetically modified, it’s not a naturally occurring capsicum either. The parent peppers of the Carolina Reaper come from opposite sides of the globe. Ghost peppers originate in India, while red habanero comes from the Amazon and has made its way up to Mexico.
Are There Any Peppers Genetically Modified in the USA?
There are no genetically modified peppers in the United States available for sale. Genetically modified vegetables are highly regulated, and only certain GMO vegetables are permitted for sale. Capsicums, or peppers, as they’re also known, are not one of the permitted GMO vegetables.
There are 11 GMO vegetables approved for sale in the U.S.: Corn, potatoes, apples, alfalfa, sugar beets, cotton, canola, soybeans, summer squash, and papaya. As you can see, peppers are not one of the approved GMO products by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
Therefore, food suppliers cannot legally grow GMO peppers in the United States. As a result, you don’t need to worry about tasting any genetically modified peppers by accident.
Ghost peppers or Bhut Jolokia are not genetically modified products. Ghost peppers originate in India, where they’ve been grown for centuries. At one point, ghost peppers were believed to be the spiciest chili in the world. However, in recent years, new chills were discovered that are hotter.
Ghost peppers only appeared in western markets over the last few decades. The spiciness of this chili was only measured in the early 2000s when the Indian state decided to weaponize them. Ghost peppers are one of the parent plants to create the world’s hottest chili, the Carolina Reaper.
- US Food and Drug Administration: GMO Crops, Animal Food and Beyond
- American Society for Horticultural Science: ‘Bhut Jolokia’—The World’s Hottest Known Chile Pepper is a Putative Naturally Occurring Interspecific Hybrid
- Bountiful Gardener: When to Harvest Your Ghost Peppers
- Pepper Geek: When To Pick Ghost Peppers (Pictures)