Chili Peppers—Hot, Hotter, Hottest

By Karen Newcomb | November 11, 2015
Image by Totally Tomatoes
by Karen Newcomb
November 11, 2015

This week’s gardening guest blogger is Karen Newcomb, a Rocklin, California resident who has contributed to and co-written nine gardening books with her late husband, Duane.  She is a lifetime vegetable gardener, an avid writer and has been a writing teacher for more than twenty years. Her web site is more than just garden information, it also includes tons of vegetable varieties and where to get the seeds.

I admit I love the way chili peppers look growing on the plant. On the other hand, some of these chilis are not for the faint of heart, but true chili aficionados swear by them. Some varieties ring in at 1,000,000 Scoville units, some much less hot. Some are fire engine red and make great ristas or wreaths to hang in the kitchen. When dried these chilies can be crushed into pepper flakes to spice up sauces, pizzas, soups and more.
What is a Scoville unit? In 1902, pharmacologist Wilber Scoville mixed ground chili in sugar, alcohol and water and taste tested the heat content, rating them from 0 to, at that time, 200,000 on the “Scoville scale.” Today computerized technology rate peppers from 0 to 10. Although Scoville units are the preferred reference.

The heat in chiles (hot) peppers is concentrated in the veins and also in the seeds. Use caution when working with chili peppers because they contain volatile oils that can burn your skin and eyes. If your skin is sensitive, wear thin rubber gloves. If you bite into a chili and regret it, drink a glass of milk.

As a general rule, the smaller the pepper the hotter because smaller chilies have a higher proportion of seeds and ribs. I don’t find that to be particularly true, since “Habanero” for instance, one of the hottest, is not the smallest.
Here are some of the flame throwers of the chili world. I’ll start with some mild varieties, working up to the real heat makers. Seed sources listed below.

Chilies 100 to 1750 Scoville Units

Ancho San Martin Totally TomatoesAncho San Martin (pictured at left) 75 days. Hybrid. 500 t0 1,000 Scoville units. This is a mild poblano chile rellano type. Can be grown almost anywhere. Called “Ancho” when dried. Dark green, 5 ½” long peppers are a favorite for roasting. One of the mildest chilies. Source: TOT

Biggie Chiliâ„¢ 68 days. Hybrid. 500 Scoville Units. Plant has heavy leaf canopy that protects fruits from sunscald. Impressive thick walled peppers up to 9″ long. Light green fruits mature to a bright red if left on the vine. Great for roasting or slicing. Source: THE TOT

Cajun Belle (pictured at right) 60 days. Hybrid. 100-1,000 Scoville units. All American Selection winner. Mildly hot, but sweet pepper that is adapted to traditional gardening and to container gardens. This pepper looks like a small bell pepper, 2 ” wide and 3″ long with 3 or 4 lobes. The fruit will ripen from green to scarlet when to a deep red if left on the plant. Source: JOHN PAR TOTCajun Belle Pepper Totally Tomato

Sweet Heat 56 days. Hybrid. 329 Scoville units. This pepper has a mild, spicy flavor with smoky undertones. Look much like bell peppers, 3-4″ long by 1-1 ½” wide. Perfect choice for grilling and salsa. Can be eaten at the green or red stage. Compact plants are bushy. 65% higher vitamin C than average peppers. Source: BURP STO TOT

Zavory 90 days. 100 Scoville Units. Hybrid. Shiny 2-3″ red peppers appear in large numbers in late summer. Branching 30″ tall plants. Source: BURP COO THE

Chilies 2000 to 10,000 Scoville Units

Balada Pepper Totally TomatoesBalada (Kung Pao) (pictured at left) 85 days. Hybrid. 10,000 Scoville Units. This is an Oriental hot pepper with thin walls that dry quickly to seal in flavor and heat. Big, 30″ plants with 4 ½” long peppers that mature from green to red with no loss of taste. Source: THE TOT

Cherezo Cherry 65-75 days. Hybrid. 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units. A hot little Italian import grows up to 2′ tall with an abundance of round, uniform, 1 ½” peppers with thick walls. Maturing from green to brilliant red. Use fresh in salads, pickled, stuffed, or for antipastos. Source: JOHN

Devil Serrano (pictured at right) 73 days. Hybrid. 6,000 Scoville units. Dark green, finger-sized, glossy fruits. Semi-determinate plant uses less garden space. Source: TOTDevil Serrano peppers Totally Tomatoes

Garden Salsa 73 days. Hybrid. 3,000 Scoville units. Peppers are 8″ long and 1″ across. Usually picked at green stage for salsa, but can be left on plant to turn red. These peppers get hotter in dry weather. Source: PAR THE TOT

Hot Daddy 62 days. Hybrid. 2,000 Scoville units. 12″ long fruit at maturity, change from green to glowing golden-orange. Source: BURP

Jalisco Jalapeno 58-62 days. Hybrid. 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units. A mainstay in Mexican and Southwest cooking. Smooth, blunt, medium-walled 3″ x 1″ jalapenos. Medium green to red when left on plant. 3′ tall plants. The smoke dried Jalisco is known as chipotle and adds a rich, smoky flavor to meats, sauces and soups. Source: JOHN

Mio Grande 62 days. Hybrid. 4,000 to 6,000 Scoville units. Large 5″ long hot pepper. Source: GOU

Volcano 60-70 days. Hybrid. 2,000 to 4,000 Scoville units. 4-6″ long, glossy greenish-yellow that matures to red. Hungarian type. Excellent for pickling, roasting and fresh use. Source: THE TOT

Chilies 25,000 to 200,000 Scoville Units

Aji Limo pepper Totally TomatoesAji Limo (Lemon Drop) (OP) (pictured at left) 70-80 days. Heirloom. 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. Lemon-yellow pepper that grows ½” x 2″ with thin walls and a tapered point. A rare Peruvian heirloom. Very productive 1′ tall plants. It’s strong heat is tempered with a smoother, citrus-spice flavor when cooked. Source: JOHN TOT

Chenzo 82-85 days. Hybrid. 45,000 Scoville units. Plants grow 22″ tall and spread up to 20″. Peppers mature from black to bright red. Well suited to pots and containers. Source: TOT

Jamaican Hot Red (OP) 90-100 days. 100,000 to 200,000 Scoville units. Very compact plant with an abundance of thin skin peppers shaped like a lantern. Lots of flavor through the heat. Source: NES

Rey Pakai 84 days. Hybrid. 200,000 Scoville units. 2 ½ x 1 ½” Habanero type. Mature from green to red. Vigorous upright plants. Source: STO

Chilies 300,000 to 1,000,000 Plus Scoville Units

Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) (pictured at right) 100-120 days. Heirloom. In excess of 1,000,000 Scoville units. Plants exceed 4′ tall. These flame throwers are thin-walled, wrinkled, pointed and reach 2-3″ in length. They ripen to mostly red. Source: BAK THE TER TOTBhut Jolokia Pepper Totally Tomatoes

Caribbean Red Habanero (OP) 90 days. Heirloom. 445,000 Scoville units. This hot, hot, hot pepper comes from the Yucatan region. 30″ tall plants. Source: THE

Chocolate Habanero Heirloom. 300,000 Scoville units. 2″ long, chocolate-brown color, lantern shaped peppers. Source: BAK

You may or may not find any of these varieties in the supermarket. Growing chili in your own garden is your best choice. Peppers are easy to grow. If you can’t find these varieties as seedlings at your local nursery you can sow seeds in flats or containers filled with potting mix or a mixture of peat moss and vermiculite. Keep the soil temperature about 80° F if possible. When seeds germinate, move flats into bright light for about eight weeks. Plant outdoors when the soil has thoroughly warmed and the nighttime lows are expected to stay above 55° F. In cool climates plant through black plastic and cover with row covers. Keep soil evenly moist.

Fertilize every four weeks with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer. Excess nitrogen produces a bushy plant with little fruit. Provide an even water supply and never let the plants droop. Space chili plants 18-24 inches apart.

Hot peppers should ripen on the vine to obtain full potency. Some old time gardeners swear that hot peppers and sulfur are bosom buddies. They put about half a teaspoon of garden sulfur in the bottom of the planting hole before setting out the transplants. Sulfur lowers the soil pH, which leads to an abundance of peppers.

Caution, when handling these peppers wear gloves. If you touch them with your hands, keep them away from your eyes and mouth. It helps to wash your hands with Fels Naptha, a heavy duty laundry bar soap to remove any chili oil.

Proceed with caution!

Pepper Seed Catalog Sources

BAK Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
BURP Burpee
COO Cook’s Garden
GOU Gourmet Seed International
JOHN John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
KIT Kitazawa Seed Co.
NES Neseed
PAR Park Seed
SEED Seed Savers Exchange
STO Stokes Seeds
TER Territorial Seed company
THE The Pepper Gal
TOT Totally Tomatoes

For a complete listing of chili peppers and seed catalogs visit:

© Copyright by Karen Newcomb


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