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Reasons Why Ghost Peppers Stink

By Bill Kalkumnerd • Updated: 05/28/22 • 7 min read
Reasons Why Ghost Peppers Stink

Most people loosely refer to anything that gives a discomforting or uncomfortable perception as stinking. The same fate befalls the one time world’s hottest pepper, Bhut jolokia, AKA ghost pepper. As “the hot culture” advances and more people crave adding super hot peppers to their dishes, why do people believe ghost peppers stink?

Ghost peppers do not stink, and associating stink with ghost peppers stems from a loose way to describe the intense and somewhat discomforting effect they have on the five senses. Capsaicin is an odorless chemical component in ghost peppers, responsible for the olfactory discomfort they create. Therefore the best description for ghost pepper’s smell is pungent.

It is counterintuitive to want to eat something that stinks, much less use it as a flavoring agent in exotic delicacies. So in this article, we will discover if ghost peppers actually stink and why they are better described as pungent rather than stinking. Let’s get started! 

Do Ghost Peppers Really Stink, or is it Just an Expression?

Capsaicin is the one reason behind ghost peppers’ uniqueness and extraordinary features and other super hot peppers alike. Ghost peppers do not stink because of the phytochemicals they contain, called Capsaicin. 

Instead, capsaicin is an odorless alkaloid that gives ghost peppers their characteristic super hot flavor. Interestingly, there seems to be a fragile line between the sense of taste and smell. 

Therefore, ghost peppers’ smell and taste are challenging to describe because of their overlapping qualities and effect. Since Capsaicin is odorless, it follows that ghost peppers have no scent. 

However, they can take up the smell and flavoring of their environment. Therefore, whatever food you add ghost peppers to determines the aroma of the pepper while retaining its capsaicinoid elements, which are better described as pungent. 

Why Do People Describe Ghost Peppers As Stinking?

On the one hand, some people describe ghost peppers as stinking because they lack a better term. Essentially, it is more of a language problem than a perception problem, even though there are exceptions like phantosmia (the false perception of smell).  

Why Pungency Might Be the New Stink for Ghost Peppers

According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, the word pungent describes the condition of having a strong, sharp smell or flavor. It refers to the characteristic of food commonly referred to as spiciness, hotness, or heat, found in foods such as chili peppers. 

Also, Wikipedia defines pungency as any food flavor that ranges from mild to hot. However, most people describe highly pungent tastes as an unpleasant experience. As a result, they may represent the strong smell of ghost peppers as stinking. 

Essentially, pungency is neither considered a taste nor smell in the true sense of things, and it is a unique blend of overlap that affects both the sense of taste and smell simultaneously. The reason is that several neurons carry the pungent sensation via several nerves to the brain for interpretation. 

Pungency is therefore perceived through chemesthesis, which is the sensitivity of the skin and mucus membranes to chemical substances like Capsaicin in ghost peppers. 

Fun Fact: The Capsaicin in ghost peppers can be extracted into pure Capsaicin and used to make creams that alleviate pains. 

How Ghost Peppers and Other Spices Affect Our Sense of Smell

Ghost peppers and most spices contain pungent phytochemicals that humans and most spice perceiving creatures sense through chemesthesis. 

As a result, these pungent phytochemicals like Capsaicin in ghost peppers and most chilis cause a burning or tingling sensation by simultaneously stimulating the trigeminal nerve and the taste senses (taste buds). This way, you feel a mixture of the heat and taste in your mouth and across your sinuses. 

Additionally, this sensation is also due to the volatility of the phytochemicals in the spices or peppers. The spicy sensation kicks in when the heat/thermal and chemosensitive receptors TRP ion channels and TRPV1 are readily activated by the interaction between the phytochemicals and their corresponding receptors. 

See also  Are Dried Peppers Less Spicy?

Below is a table showing the pungent phytochemicals in most spices and hot peppers and their characteristics.

Spices or Pepper TypesCorresponding PhytochemicalCorresponding ReceptorPhytochemical Solubility
Ghost pepperCapsaicinTRP ion channels/TRPV1/TRA1 nociceptorsHydrophobic (not water-soluble)
Black pepper/Long peppersPiperineTRP ion channels/TRPV1/TRA1 nociceptorsPoor water solubility
Wasabi/Mustard/Radish/HorseradishAllyl isothiocyanateTRP ion channels/TRPV1/TRA1 nociceptorsWater-soluble/More soluble in organic solvents
Cut/Crushed plants, e.g., Garlic & OnionsThiosulphinates, TRP ion channels/TRPV1/TRA1 nociceptors2% water solubility/Very soluble in organic solvents

Fun Fact: The larger chili pepper varieties tend to be mild. In contrast, the smaller chili pepper varieties tend to be the hottest. 

Will Eating Ghost Peppers Make Me Stink?

The general incidence of experiencing mouth or body odor after eating some heavily spicy foods raises the query about ghost peppers. Eating ghost peppers will not make you stink because they do not contain allyl isothiocyanate or thiosulfinates, as do garlic and onions. 

Also, ghost peppers do not contain volatile organic compounds (VOC). Instead, they have an odorless phytochemical called capsaicin that does not release its metabolites into your sweat to cause the body to stink. However, the garlic sweat from eating garlic and onions are not permanent and is something proper hygiene can remedy. 

How Ghost Peppers Contribute to Health and Medical Advancement

capsaicin is the chemical substance that produces all of the heat sensations in ghost peppers. It is chemically known as(N-vanillyl-8-methyl-6- (E)-noneamide). 

According to Rowland et al., 1983, Capsaicin is produced by special gland cells found in the cross-walls or ribs of the ghost pepper. It is composed of several different alkaloids, which vary in amounts depending on the species. 

Capsaicin is used to produce capsaicinoids in pharmacology and used as a treatment. There are about six naturally occurring capsaicinoids, with Capsaicin taking up 69%.

Below is a table showing all six capsaicinoids and their corresponding Scoville heat units. 

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Capsacinoid nameAbbreviationPercentage AvailabilityScoville Heat Units
CapsaicinC69%16,000,000
DihydrocapsaicinDHC22%16,000,000
NordihydrocapsaicinNDHC7%9,100,000 
HomocapsaicinHC1%8,600,000
HomodihydrocapsaicinHDHC1%8,600,000 
NonivamidePAVA0%9,200,000

Fun Fact: Pure capsaicin measures over 16000000 SHU Scoville heat units off the charts! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Decayed Ghost Peppers Stink?

Generally, any decayed substance stinks because of the progressive disintegration of biological components. Decay happens when the forces of cohesion and adhesion are unable to keep the integrity of a living substance, leading to odor production and, in most cases, formation of maggots. 

Do Ghost Peppers Have an Odor?

Ghost peppers influence our sense of smell but cannot be said to possess odor. Capsaicin is the plant chemical responsible for ghost pepper spiciness so that you can perceive its presence as a note behind your throat and in your sinuses. 

Why Is Pungent Used To Describe Ghost Pepper Smell?

Ghost pepper and most peppers, in general, are challenging to describe when it comes to smell because you cannot inhale pepper. The sensation we usually interpret as the smell of ghost peppers is best described as pungent because of its intense, strong, and peppery note.

Final Thoughts

In essence, ghost peppers don’t stink since their flavor carrying agent has no odor. As a result, the description of stink is only an expression for the pungency as it affects most people. Now that you know better, we hope this piece has exposed you to better language usage and description as it concerns ghost peppers and their spicy features. 

Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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