Carolina Reaper
Eater, beware! The Carolina Reaper is close to 1,000x hotter than your average jalapeño pepper. Photo: Great Big Story.

When it comes to the world’s hottest peppers, it’s all about the Carolina Reaper…then everything else. Red and gnarled with a small pointed tail, the pepper has held the Guinness World Record as the hottest chili on earth since 2013. Naturally, as a self-proclaimed “spicy food enthusiast,” I made the colossal mistake of eating a fresh Reaper pepper whole last year. Naturally, there is video evidence. Suffice it to say, I will not be sampling any more of these devilish little creations any time soon. There truly are no ways to accurately describe its consumption, apart from speaking in clichés — yes, my stomach really did feel like it was on fire…for a full 18 hours.

So, just what exactly is the story behind the creation of the world’s hottest chili pepper? True heat aficionados might know that one man can take credit for its existence: “Smokin” Ed Currie. Now somewhat of a legend (at least, in the hot-pepper circuit), Currie crossbreeds various peppers, in hopes of attaining new flavors and heat levels. In the case of the Carolina Reaper, the mixture consists of a ghost pepper and a red habanero. On average, the pepper measures a scorching 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units, though the hottest individual pepper hit 2.2 million SHUs. For comparison’s sake, an average jalapeño registers around 2,500 SHUs, while a habanero comes in at around 100,000, depending on its color and ripeness. For those of you wise enough to never consider taking a bite of a Carolina Reaper, just think about those numbers the next time you tear up after accidentally swallowing a whole chunk of whatever “hot” pepper you’re cooking with.

But how exactly is the pepper bred? And could an even hotter pepper possibly be on the horizon? Our friends at Great Big Story paid Smokin’ Ed a visit at his PuckerButt Pepper Company in Fort Mill, South Carolina to get the scoop for themselves. Take a look below to learn more about the science behind the world’s most intimidating, inch-long edible.