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Ghost Pepper vs Carolina Reaper: 6 Main Differences

Even for experienced spice lovers, the warriors who scoff at the hot peppers that would make a normal person quake in their boots, the Ghost Pepper and Carolina Reaper can be too much.

These are two of the hottest peppers around and are certainly not for the faint of heart. Any dish made with these will immediately have its heat become its sole defining quality.

When we get into this upper tier of peppery hotness, there are often many misconceptions about which one the hottest pepper is, and that they all pretty much taste the same.

The main difference between the Ghost Pepper and the Carolina Reaper is that the Carolina Reaper is considerably hotter than the Ghost Pepper. The Reaper is rated at over 2 million units on the Scoville scale, while the Ghost Pepper is rated at roughly 1 million.

What are Ghost Peppers?

The Ghost Pepper, also known as the Bhut Jolokia is often called the hottest pepper in the world. Technically this is not true anymore, but it did hold the Guinness world record as the hottest pepper in the world from 2007 to 2011.

But it’s still one of the most ‘popular’ peppers around when it comes to those extreme levels of heat, this is because it gained a huge amount of exposure as so many people would eat them whole as part of a viral online challenge.

In this challenge, people would film themselves with a friend eating an entire ghost pepper and then capture the ensuing carnage.

In fact, these guys are so hot they have been employed by riot police as ‘Ghost Pepper Grenades’ in order to disperse rowdy crowds. The pepper can also be applied to protective fencing in order to deter animals due to their strong scent.

So as you can imagine, it’s quite strong!

When should you pick a Ghost Pepper over a Carolina Reaper?

Even though it was once considered the hottest pepper in the world, nowadays we place Ghost Peppers in the middle-to-upper tier of heat level.

So they are perfect for when you need a slightly intense and noticeable amount of heat, but you’re not looking to put yourself out of action with something like a Carolina Reaper.

Ghost Peppers are far more commonly used in regular cooking, whereas the uncomfortable levels of heat that the Carolina Reaper offers end up being seen as more of a gimmick for food rather than an actual flavor enhancer.

What are Carolina Reapers?

This is the big one, in 2017 it was awarded the Guinness World Record as the hottest chili pepper in the world. Doubling the SHU number of the Ghost Pepper and knocking the previous reigning champion, the Trinidad Scorpion, off its pedestal.

While some people claim to have bred a hotter pepper than this, nothing has yet been formally acknowledged.

The amount of heat this pepper puts out is exceptionally high and has been described by many as painful and uncomfortable.

This is due to the chemical ‘capsaicin’ which essentially tricks your brain into thinking your tongue is quite literally burning.

And while it’s technically not dangerous to consume, it’s quite common to develop issues such as acid reflux or an irritated stomach/bowl due to the body’s heavy reaction to such a hot pepper.

When should you pick a Carolina Reaper over a Ghost Pepper?

There are a few scenarios in regular cooking you’d use this over a Ghost Pepper. But if you are looking for the absolute hottest of the hot, the Reaper is going to give you a bigger kick than the Ghost Pepper.

What are the differences between the Ghost Pepper and Carolina reaper?

While many people are still confused over the difference between a Ghost Pepper and a Carolina Reaper, these two really hot peppers actually differ in a few characteristics, mainly their spiciness, origin, taste, and cultivation.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the specifics.

1. Origin

Unlike some of the newer ‘hottest peppers’ which have been carefully bred to be the hottest, they can be, ghost pepper grows completely naturally in Northeast India and is part of the Capsicum family which is the same family as the Habanero. 

Its technical name, the ‘Bhut Jolokia’ comes from the amalgamation of the two words Bhut, which means ghost, and Jolokia which means pepper.

Since its rise in popularity, it’s now cultivated and grown in many countries and is sold all over the world as sauces, powders, and whole peppers to be used as a seasoning in common cuisine. 

Unlike the Ghost Pepper which can be found naturally in a few different countries, the Carolina Reaper was specifically bred to be an absurdly hot pepper by Ed Currie in, you guessed it, Carolina, USA.

2. Appearance

As the Ghost Pepper first starts to form, it will start off as a small yellowy-green color. And then as it ripens the skin will turn a deep red and will become dented and thin, giving it this slightly shriveled look.

This is the case for most Ghost Peppers, although there are many variations on this, such as the yellow Ghost Pepper, which retains its bright color even when ripe.

Carolina Reapers are quite small, usually about 1.5 to 2 inches in length. And they have a deep red color over dented and shriveled skin.

There isn’t a huge difference in color, they are both a deep red color as standard. But both can also be grown in a range of colors including yellow, chocolate, and peach.

The main difference and easiest way to tell them apart visually is that the Carolina Reaper has a sharp ‘tail’ on its tip that looks a little like the end of a grim reaper scythe.

3. Spiciness

We measure the heat of peppers using the ‘Scoville scale’, which is basically an easy way to determine the overall hotness of a particular pepper.

Of course, other factors come into play such as personal tolerance, what’s firebreathing hot for one person may be a mild tickle for another.

Currently, this scale ranges from 0 SHU (SHU being the Scoville heat units) which is that of the bell pepper, all the way up to over 2 million which is where our current world’s hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper resides.

(That is until technology and careful cultivation allow us to breed an even hotter one.)

And although the Ghost Pepper is no longer the hottest one, it’s still way up there at the 1 million SHU mark, which is described as ‘extremely hot’. 

Despite its incredible amount of heat, it’s still very commonly used in cooking. When dried and used sparingly in a meal it adds a surprising amount of flavor and a manageable amount of heat to a dish.

4. Cooking

Probably the most common use of Ghost Peppers is in the making of hot sauce. Few other peppers can give you as much bang for your buck when it comes to increasing the heat of a meal without using a lot of ingredients.

This makes it ideal for things like hot sauces and chili oils. It’s also used as a direct ingredient in cooking meals such as hot pasta, salad, or spiced bacon.

The primary use of Carolina Reapers in cooking is to make the hottest sauces in the world. It’s simply too hot to use in our day-to-day cooking so most of the products made with Carolina Reapers are usually prided on the fact they are incredibly hot.

5. Taste

Of course, if you eat a raw ghost pepper while it’s going to taste like pure heat and certainly not have many redeeming qualities in the flavor department.

But when used in a sensible manner it offers a robust, intensely fruity, and slightly sweet chili flavor.

The taste of a Carolina Reaper is described as being initially quite fruity, but as soon as the heat kicks in, that flavor disappears and you’re just left with molten lava.

6. Cultivation

There are many pepper types out there that are not too difficult to grow, but unfortunately, the Ghost Pepper is not one of them.

It has quite specific requirements when it comes to both humidity and temperature which will affect the pepper’s size and heat level a lot of these are not correct.

You essentially have to grow them in an environment that matches that of their native India, which receives about 5 months of very intense heat and humidity a year. So you have your work cut out for you if you want to grow these yourself!

Being the Carolina Reaper a world-record-holding pepper, you’d think it’d be considerably more challenging to grow than the Ghost Pepper, but it’s actually the opposite.

It only requires a temperature of 18-20 degrees and is grown in a small pot to help promote the fruiting phase faster, which actually makes it possible to grow these at home.

Carolina Reaper vs Ghost Pepper: are they the same?

To the average consumer, these are both simply unfathomably hot peppers.

But under more careful scrutiny we can see that the Ghost Peppers is a little more manageable than the Carolina Reaper and is more commonly used in cooking applications to add some nice extra flavor. Whereas the Carolina Reaper is reserved for only the hottest of hot sauces.

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Passionate chef, in love with everything related to food and cooking it to perfection!
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