For some people, chili is simply a spice to be used in moderation in a small range of dishes. For others, it can become something much more important: once people get the taste for this fiery fruit, it can turn into almost an addiction, with ever stronger peppers being sought to add to all manner of recipes. The height of this quest for heat is the Carolina Rea per variety of chili plant, whose colorful and somewhat foreboding-looking fruits are by far the most potent in the world.
Chili peppers’ heat is measured using the Scoville scale. As a guide, a jalapeno pepper- not often considered a particular lightweight – tums in a fairly meager score of 3,500 Scoville units. Moving up the rankings, the Scotchbonnet cranks the tally up to a dramatic 350,000 units while lending its heat and distinctive citrus flavor to many a Caribbean dish. The Carolina Reaper however takes things to an entirely different level, breaking the scales at around 2.2 million units, making it truly a pepper to be reckoned with.
Where Did it Come From?
The Reaper variety was developed in South Carolina by Ed Smokin’ Currie of the PuckerButt Pepper Company. It is a hybrid of the ghost pepper (or bhut jolokia) and the red habanero, and combines exceptional heat with a deep fruity taste.
It’s unlikely that you will be able to buy the peppers in your local supermarket, but specialist shops may carry fresh fruits or plants, while a variety of dried specimens and powders are available online.
You can also readily buy seeds online, but like most ultra-hot varieties of chili pepper the Carolina Reaper can be tricky to raise from seed. It suffers from unreliable germination and needs a long growing season to produce significant amounts of fruit. However, if you have a suitable local climate or a heated greenhouse, growing your own Reaper plants is rewarding and inexpensive.
Using the Carolina Reaper
Even for the most devoted of chili-heads, the Reaper is a formidable beast, so always err on the cautious side when using it in a recipe. Just a sliver or two will add both heat and a fruity depth to any chili-based dish, and you can always back it up with less aggressive specimens for a wider range of flavor. A popular use is to make chili oil, which can then be dribbled sparingly onto pasta, pizza, or indeed any dish which would benefit from an extra kick. Alternatively, hang fresh chilies in a warm, airy place to dry out, before crumbling small parts of a pepper into any classic spicy dish for an instant hit of pure Reaper power.
It’s a traditional, almost cliched warning that you should wear gloves when handling peppers of this potency. While doing so might seem a little over-cautious, such is the strength of the Carolina Reaper that it will cause considerable discomfort if it touches the slightest nick in your skin.
Even if you wear gloves during preparation, be exceptionally careful that you don’t then absent-mindedly touch your eyes – or other tender parts of your body for
that matter – as the results will be somewhat distressing, to my the least.
Finally, don’t be tempted to eat whole raw fruits until you’ve found out what you’re dealing with – the strength can vary dramatically even between chilies from the same source. A very cautious nibble should be more than enough to determine the heat level so that you can adjust your recipes to taste.
To some, the idea of a chili this hot is an exercise in pointless bravado. While the chili-munching exploits of competitive eaters might be beyond most people’s
tolerances, there’s no doubt that for committed chili lovers there’s something very special about the most fiery varieties – and they don’t get any more infernal than the Carolina Reaper.