In 2007, the ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia) was named the world’s hottest pepper by Guinness World Records. Today, the ghost pepper plant is still an extremely popular superhot that you can grow yourself.
This ghost chili pepper has many names including “Bhut Jolokia,” “Naga Morich,” “Red Naga Chili,” “Naga Jolokia,” “U-Morok” and “Bih Jolokia.”
And, you might be surprised to find that the red ghost pepper is just one version of the Bhut Jolokia. Ghost chillies come in so many different shades. (For example, there’s a white ghost pepper.)
Even more, each variety has differences (besides color) in heat level and taste. This may sway you towards one over another.
Once you select the ghost pepper(s) you’d like to enjoy, the tricky part is understanding how to start these plants and then care for them.
(Don’t worry. There’s a complete growing guide in this article to help.)
So whether you’re a fan of the Bhut Jolokia or you want to grow your own ghost pepper plants, I hope you get a lot of value from the information in this post.
- Ghost Pepper Scoville
- About Ghost Pepper Plants
- Red Ghost Pepper
- Green Ghost Pepper
- Yellow Ghost Pepper
- Peach Ghost Pepper
- Purple Ghost Pepper
- Chocolate Ghost Pepper
- Orange Ghost Pepper
- White Ghost Pepper
- Growing Ghost Peppers
- How To Grow Ghost Peppers Outside
- When To Pick Ghost Peppers
- Using Your Ghost Peppers
- Finding Ghost Pepper Plants For Sale
- Common Ghost Pepper Plant Questions
Ghost Pepper Scoville
Specifically, the ghost pepper scale ranks at 1,041,427 Scoville units. So when comparing the ghost pepper vs habanero, the ghost is three times hotter.
(For more comparisons, a bell pepper has 0 SHU, and the habanero pepper Scoville is 350,000 SHU.)
On the other side, there’s the Carolina Reaper. Ghost peppers can be half the heat of a Reaper. The Carolina Reaper Scoville is 2,200,000 at the top end.
And, in case your curious…
Some other super hot peppers that rank over a 1 million Scovilles include the Infinity chili (1,250,000 SHU), Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” (1,463,700 SHU) and Chocolate Bhutlah (~2,000,000 SHU).
About Ghost Pepper Plants
Hailing from Northeast India, the name “Bhut Jolokia” literally translates to “Ghost Pepper.” The ghost is a perennial plant that produces long, teardrop-shaped pods that can take up to 6 months to fully mature.
So what does this chile taste like? The ghost pepper flavor tends to have a smoky, earthy taste with a somewhat fruity aftertaste. I’ve read that the heat lasts about 15 minutes, but in my experience, it’s more like 30 minutes!
Ghost Pepper Plant Size
Ghost chili plants can grow up to 4 feet (1.22 meters) high. (In containers, they may only go up to 2 feet.) Further, they typically have a spread between 1 and 2 feet (0.30 and 0.61 meters).
You can generally expect orange to red peppers that are 1 to 2 inches (2.54 to 5.08 cm) wide and 2 to 3 inches (5.08 to 7.62 cm) long. If you’re growing a different ghost pepper variety, these measurements and colors can vary as you’ll see below.
What Color Are Ghost Peppers?
Ghost peppers start off green and turn red when fully ripe. The ghost chilli plant, however, comes in many variations. For example, varieties include the yellow ghost pepper, chocolate ghost pepper and other shades like peach, purple, orange, white and green.
Besides color, you may be wondering about the differences in flavor and spice level. As you’ll see, Bhut Jolokia varieties do have some differences.
Red Ghost Pepper
The red ghost pepper is definitely the most widely-known Bhut Jolokia. Other names for this variety include Naga Jolokia and Bih Jolokia.
The red ghost chile typically grows between 2.5 to 3.5 inches (6.35 to 8.89 cm) long. The long, pendant-shaped pods typically have a bumpy texture. And, like most chillies, red bhuts start off green before officially turning red.
This red pepper is one of the hottest ghost chillies. And, the flavor is somewhat smokey with a slightly fruity aftertaste.
Green Ghost Pepper
The green ghost pepper — the immature version of the red ghost — has a somewhat grassy flavor with fruity and floral notes. These green peppers don’t have the same immediate heat level as the red, but the potency builds (and stays) as you eat them.
Yellow Ghost Pepper
The yellow ghost pepper is an organic relative of the red variety.
In fact, here’s an interesting tidbit… the yellow variation was discovered as a natural variant in the US. It’s not a hybrid!
As far as taste, the yellow ghost is similar to the red. Pods ripen from green to yellow.
Some say the yellow ghost pepper is not as hot as the red. Despite this, you’ll find it’s hotter than other spicy chillies like the fatalii.
Peach Ghost Pepper
The peach bhut jolokia is another natural mutation of the red ghost pepper.
This plant grows longer pendant pods than other bhuts. The average length of the peach ghost pepper is usually around 4 inches (10.16 cm), and the largest gets to be about 6 inches (15.24 cm).
Pods start off green and then end up a beautiful pinkish, peach color. If you leave them on the vine, they have the potential to turn orange.
And while peach bhut jolokias are just as hot as the red ghost, you’ll discover they tend to have a balanced, fruity aftertaste.
Purple Ghost Pepper
The purple ghost pepper grows smaller pods than other bhut jolokia varieties.
Some chillies may start off as a deep purple and eventually turn red if left on the vine. Others may start off green and then turn purple before going red.
Here’s a couple of things to note about the purple color:
- The pods have to be exposed to direct sun to turn purple.
- Some purple ghost pepper pods may never end up purple. They’ll start off green and turn red like a traditional red ghost pepper.
Although these types of peppers carry the same flavor profile associated with the Bhut Jolokia, they are not as hot. The purple ghost pepper is said to be comparable to the heat of an orange habanero.
Note: Be sure to check out The Pepper Seed Vendor List if you need help finding seeds for any of these ghost pepper varieties.
Chocolate Ghost Pepper
The chocolate (brown) ghost pepper is another organic offspring of the red ghost pepper.
This variety has a notoriously long germination time (in some instances 6 weeks), but it’s worth it due to it’s delicious, smoky flavor. They are also very aromatic!
You’ll find the chocolate ghost pepper has the same heat as red ghost, but it has a distinctively sweet aftertaste.
Orange Ghost Pepper
Of all the ghost peppers out there, the orange ghost pepper is the most prolific grower. The heat level of the orange ghost is similar to that of the red ghost pepper. And, the citrus-like flavor is more pronounced making the orange ghost pepper a popular choice for hot sauce.
The orange Bhut Jolokia variety is great for container growing because the plants tend to grow smaller. Another distinctive feature is that these ghost chillies often produce smoother pods. In fact, they seem to have the appearance of long habaneros.
White Ghost Pepper
This intriguing white Bhut Jolokia is another prolific producer.
The white ghost pepper plant develops pods that ripen to an off-white color. These pods are smooth without the usual bumps on the skin.
These plants have the potential to grow over 3 feet (0.91 meters) tall.
Despite its hints of citrus, it contains the same heat and flavor profile you’ve come to expect with bhuts.
This is another highly sought-after variety for making white hot sauce.
And depending on where you get your seeds, some pods go from creamy white to red, while others stay white.
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Growing Ghost Peppers
This section describes how to your start your pepper seeds indoors and then grow your ghost pepper plants outside in pots.
At-A-Glance Growing Reference
Necessary Garden Supplies
Before you start, you’ll need these items. (Links go to Amazon.)
- Seed starter kit (or use your own containers, growing tray and cover)
- Plant heat mat (essential)
- Seed-starting mix (or use another growing media)
- Plant labels
- Indoor grow light (here’s an article about lights in case you need it)
- Fertilizer (this is my favorite organic recommendation, but you have a lot of options)
- Pot (at least a 5-gallon container for growing outside)
- Potting soil mix (this is my go-to mix, but you’ll see what to look for in a potting soil below)
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How To Start Ghost Pepper Seeds
Ghost pepper seeds can take a few weeks to germinate, and the plants need a long growing season (around 5 months). You’ll definitely want plenty of time to start your seeds.
This means you should begin about 8 to 12 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Some varieties, like the chocolate ghost pepper, can take even longer to sprout. Keep that in mind when picking a planting date.
To germinate your seeds, you can sow seeds under a shallow layer of growing media like seed-starting soil mix. Alternately, you can sprout them much quicker in a baggie.
To clarify, I recommend using the baggie method because it speeds things up. More importantly, it also tests the seeds for viability, which tells you if they can grow under suitable conditions.
If you’re still having problems germinating your ghost pepper seeds, here are some other options for getting them to sprout.
Ghost pepper plants, like other chile varieties, need hot and humid conditions to germinate. The key here is to keep the soil warmed between 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 32 degrees Celsius).
A plant heat mat with temperature controller (Amazon link) gives you total control over your growing temperature. Optionally, you can just use the heat mat to warm your pepper seeds.
Ghost chillies typically become seedlings in 30 days. If you sprout them in a baggie, you’ll likely get quicker results.
Using An Indoor Grow Light
After germination, your ghost pepper plants need light. Using a grow lamp makes things easier.
Make sure you know how far away your lamp should be from the tops of your plants. This information comes from the grow light manual and/or from the manufacturer website. In many cases, the height is no more than 4 inches away, however, some LED lights need to be positioned 12 inches (30.48cm) or more.
Keep your young peppers underneath an indoor plant light (Amazon link) at least 16 hours a day. Popular grow light options include fluorescent lamps, such as a T5, and LED.
Ghost pepper seedlings are sensitive to too much hydration just like other hot chillies.
You’ll likely get advice like “water so the growing media is moist, but not drenched.”
Well, that’s difficult to gauge when you’re just starting out. (It’s tricky even for people who have done this more than a few times!)
And, if you see mold developing on top (looks like a light, gray film), you know things are getting too wet.
You can scrape off this mold with a toothpick, sprinkle cinnamon on top of the mix (it has antifungal properties) and then run a small fan in the direction of your chillies for better airflow.
Once your ghost peppers have at least four leaves, transfer them to a larger pot. This is also a good time to start fertilizing your seedlings.
Bhut jolokia are generally transferred two or three times before they go outside.
If this is your first time growing ghost peppers, be sure to check out The Pepper Seed Starting Guide. This ebook walks you through all the steps of starting your pepper seedlings indoors and growing them into strong plants that are ready for the outside.
How To Grow Ghost Peppers Outside
Ghost peppers grow well when temperatures are at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius).
You can prepare your peppers to go outside around the 8 week mark, when plants are about 4 inches (10.16 cm) tall and the last threat of frost has passed. The process of “hardening off” your ghost seedlings is a controlled, systematic way in which you toughen them up so they aren’t shocked when they go outside.
To sum up, this is a two-week process: indoors and outdoors. During the first week, point a small fan at your seedlings for 15 minutes the first day.
Each day, thereafter, increase the amount of time the fan runs (for instance, 30 minutes the second day, 45 minutes the third and so on.)
For the last week, place your ghost plants in a shady, outdoor spot and leave them out for 15 minutes. Increase the amount of direct sunshine and outdoor time each day just like you did with the indoor phase. On the last day, leave your seedlings outside one whole day and night.
(This jalapeno peppers post has step-by-step instructions for the hardening-off process.)
Selecting A Pot
Before getting a pot ready, make sure that the last potential frost has passed. Sorry to be repetitive, but I don’t want you to lose your pepper plants!
Ghost peppers need room to grow so select a larger pot that’s at least 12 inches (30.48 cm) in diameter (5-gallons or more). You’ll also need something that has holes in the bottom for drainage.
Grow bags are an excellent choice for better airflow. These pots are made out of fabric, which encourages “air pruning” of roots. The benefits are pepper roots won’t become “root bound,” and they can better absorb water and nutrients.
Another common option is a 5-gallon bucket. Just be sure to drill holes on the bottom and around the lower circumference of the container.
(Note: You may wonder how far apart to plant ghost peppers if you decide at some point to grow them in a raised bed or directly in the ground. In this case, space them out between 1.5 to 2 feet [0.46 to 0.61 meters] to give them plenty of room to spread out.)
The best potting soil mix for your ghost pepper plants is going to be nutrient-rich, well-draining and in the pH range of 6.0 – 6.8.
And, since we’re growing peppers in pots, you’ll want to be sure to select a potting soil labeled for container vegetables. This ensures that the mix isn’t going to be too heavy for a pot, which prevents good airflow and water drainage.
Here’s my favorite potting soil mix (Amazon link) in case you need a recommendation.
A full sun location is the best spot for your pepper plants. Ghost chillies need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Make sure your pots aren’t blocked by anything for best results.
How To Care For Ghost Pepper Plants
Below, are some tips for the ongoing care of your plants while they’re outdoors.
Keep your potting soil moist so that your ghost peppers have what they need to grow and fruit.
Start with a weekly watering. (You may need to adjust this to biweekly if it’s especially dry in your location.) Water the top of the mix until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot.
Here are some more watering tips:
- The top 2 inches (5.08 cm) should be dry before watering again.
- Water in the evenings when the sun goes down or in the early morning. (You don’t want any water splashing on your plants and inadvertently causing them to get sunscald.)
- It helps to pick up your pot after it’s been watered to get a feel for it’s weight. This weight test gives you another way of telling when the soil is dry.
Ghost Pepper Fertilizer
You have a lot of options when it comes to feeding your ghost chillies. For outdoor peppers, they need less nitrogen and more phosphorous and potassium so they flower and fruit.
As another option, you can use this fertilizer trio by Fox Farm. This group of liquid nutrients is designed to support all of the different stages of your ghost pepper plants.
Watching For Pests and Disease
You don’t want to go to all the trouble of growing ghost peppers only to see them get damaged by bugs or disease.
Use these key practices:
- Apply mulch to keep the moisture in and prevent weeds
- Use beneficial insects as a natural guard against the harmful bugs
- Spray your plants with a blast of water in the evenings to knock of any bugs or eggs
- Here are more practices for managing pests and disease
Here’s my go-to preventative measure for bugs:
- This DIY organic pesticide with neem oil gets rid of pests without chemicals. Besides outside plants, I use this natural pesticide when starting pepper seeds to prevent fungus gnats.
If you’re really concerned about pests and disease, be sure to check out The Chile Plant Hospital. This ebook helps you diagnose common pepper plant problems, and gives you the solutions to fix your plants immediately.
Ghost Pepper Plant Flowering
A frustrating (and common) situation has to do with ghost pepper flowers. What happens is your plant may start dropping buds, or you’ll see flowers and no fruit.
The usual culprit is the weather. When temperatures get hotter than about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) you usually won’t get any chillies.
In this case, give your plants some shade until the temperatures go back down. You can simply move your potted ghost peppers to a more covered area, or use a shade cloth (Amazon link) to give them some relief.
When To Pick Ghost Peppers
It feels amazing when you get to start picking chillies! As a general guide, ghost peppers are ready when they turn their mature color.
(Note: Ghost chillies can stay green for a really long time before they ripen. It’s frustrating, but they’ll eventually turn.)
Before you harvest, make sure you’re wearing gloves to protect yourself from the burn. Yep, they’re spicy to the touch.
You can use time as another factor in when to pick. Ghost peppers generally take anywhere from 4 to 6 months to fully mature.
Another way to decide is by looking at the size of the pods. In general, ghost chillies measure 2.5 to 3.5 inches (6.35 to 8.89 cm) long and 1 to 2 inches (2.54 to 5.08 cm) wide at maturity.
I typically harvest the peppers that I’m ready to eat. If you plan to do the same, you can leave them out on the counter for a few days. Alternately, ghost chillies can go in the refrigerator, but they tend to get mushy after awhile.
Lastly, if you’re picking a bunch of peppers at one time and you don’t intend on using them right away, simply freeze them. Place your ghost peppers in a sealable baggie or container, and grab them when you’re ready.
Using Your Ghost Peppers
You can use Bhut Jolokia peppers in many ways, but two popular options include super hot powders and sauces.
Ghost Pepper Powder
To make ghost pepper powder, simply dehydrate your chillies and then grind them up. You can use the powder as is, or mix it with your favorite seasonings.
I use a dehydrator (Amazon link) to dry out the peppers until they are hard to the touch. Your dehydrator will give you recommended settings, such as the time and temperature, necessary to process your chillies.
You can use a mortar and pestle to grind up your peppers, but I much prefer a grinder like the magic bullet (Amazon link). For me, the ghost chili fumes are just too intense when hand grinding!
Keep in mind:
- Ghost peppers are incredibly potent! Wear gloves, goggles and a mask to protect yourself.
- The fumes are intense when dehydrating these chillies. Make sure you have great airflow. Or, better yet, use your dehydrator in a garage or other separate area so your whole household doesn’t start choking.
- Designate a grinder (if you use one) for just super hot chillies. If you attempt to use the same device for coffee or something else, you’re gonna get a mouthful of heat!
Ghost Pepper Hot Sauce
Ghost pepper sauces are incredibly popular and there are multiple ways and unlimited recipes to make them.
If you’re just starting out, you can use a hot sauce kit like this (Amazon link) to try it out. Besides recipes, this kit has everything you need to create your own batches of hot sauce including bottles, funnels and pH strips.
And, even the ghost pepper is included. You can do a test run with the included peppers in the kit, or substitute your own ghost chillies from the start. 🙂
Finding Ghost Pepper Plants For Sale
I know we just covered how to grow the Bhut Jolokia, but stuff happens. Maybe you didn’t start your seeds in time, or you just want a heck of a lot more plants than you thought!
If you don’t find ghost pepper plants at your local nursery or farmer’s market, be sure to check out Etsy.
This online marketplace has a lot of great sellers who offer all kinds of plants besides the usual red ghost pepper plant. You’ll likely start seeing a great selection around March, if not a bit sooner.
And besides plants, you can also get ghost pepper seeds, pods, sauces and more. It’s my favorite resource for finding super hot chillies and the harder-to-find pepper varieties.
Common Ghost Pepper Plant Questions
Yes, they are. If you prune and winterize them, your ghost pepper plants will survive the colder months and come back next year.
It’s hard to give a definitive answer, but many ghost pepper plants can live a few years or more with proper care.
Yes. You can lightly sauté or steam them. They are similar to spinach in consistency and flavor.
Issues like watering, fertilizing and weather are common reasons why your plant isn’t producing. Here’s a post that offers potential reasons and solutions for stunted pepper plants.
Fully ripe ghost chillies, from seeds to harvest, usually develop in 160 days.
I hope this article helps you produce some deliciously, hot chillies! As you’ll see, ghost pepper plants are worth the time and effort. Happy growing! 🙂
- Carolina Reaper: All About the Hottest Pepper [+ Germination Video]
- Where Do the Hottest Peppers In the World Come From?
- Chocolate Bhutlah: Is it Hotter Than the Carolina Reaper?
- 113 Types of Pepper Plants That Will Make You Want to Grow Today
And for those of you who want a step-by-step, detailed growing guide that explains how to go from pepper seeds to outdoor-ready plants… Make sure to check out the updated and expanded Pepper Seed Starting Guide. I personally use this resource to grow my chillies each season, and I’m always here to answer questions!