Meet the Carolina Reaper. It is an evil looking pepper—a gnarled, lumpy pod with a sucked-up belly and a small tail reminiscent of wasp’s stinger. When ripe it is a luscious Crayola red. Its looks are a carefully crafted marketing scheme that screams “Danger: Do Not Eat.” But it was those looks that immediately drew Ed Currie, a South Carolina chili pepper grower, to the Carolina Reaper, the latest and most controversial contender for the crown of world’s hottest pepper.
Like any human endeavor involving pride and money, the competition for the world’s hottest pepper, especially in the United States, is cutthroat and, to make matters worse, there currently is no undisputed champion.
“It is highly competitive and there is a lot of infighting,” says Ted Barrus, a well-known reviewer of superhots—peppers reaching over one million Scoville heat units (at least three times as hot as a typical habanero)—famous for his YouTube videos under the moniker Fire Breathing Idiot. “It’s a big money thing to have the world record.”
Which pepper currently reigns supreme depends on who you ask. There are four different camps.
According to the folks at Guinness World Records, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T,” a Trinidad Scorpion chili pepper variant developed by The Chilli Factory in Australia, is the world’s hottest at more than1.4 million Scoville units. But the majority of American chiliheads believe that pepper has been usurped by the Reaper, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, or any number of other peppers concocted by hobbyist growers.