10 Must-Try Peppers for Spice Enthusiasts

A list of ten peppers can only scratch the surface. There are over 50,000 different varieties available, and pepper enthusiasts are breeding new ones all the time. Peppers are spicy because they contain capsaicin; the higher the concentration of capsaicin, the hotter your pepper is.

In 1912, an American pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, came up with a way to measure the heat of a pepper. The Scoville scale is still used today; a low Scoville number means that your pepper is mild, and a high number means that your pepper packs a punch.

For many pepper lovers, a meal isn’t a meal without the extra zest that a spicy pepper adds. Peppers can make a bland meal tastier and are good for you as they are an excellent source of fiber, folic acid, potassium, and vitamins A and C.

In the United States, there are a great number of pepper fans and an equally great number of websites that cater to their tastes. You can easily find articles, recipes, and tips on how to grow peppers with a click of your mouse.

You will see that each pepper here has a Scoville number. Some peppers have a wide range on this scale; eating some of them is a little like Russian roulette. Be careful!

10 Carolina Reaper

The Carolina Reaper was developed by “Smokin” Ed Currie in South Carolina. In 2017, Guinness World Records recognized this monster as the hottest chili pepper in the world. People who have been brave enough to try it say it first seems mild and then whack! Your mouth is on fire. A jalapeño pepper can reach 8,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU)—the Carolina Reaper reaches more than 1,500,000 SHU, with one sample measuring 2,200,000. A grower in Britain has claimed that he has bred a hotter pepper; Smokin Ed has countered that he has, too—we will wait to see who reigns the hottest!

After eating a Reaper, you might feel that the world is ending, but there’s no evidence that they are dangerous to your health. Just don’t rub your eyes after handling one.

A little goes a long way with this pepper, so it’s probably best to just use them to liven up salsas. One suggestion is to put a little in a bottle of vodka and let it sit for a few weeks. That will certainly liven up a dinner party.

9 Paprika

Paprika is the Hungarian word for pepper and is a staple ingredient in many Hungarian dishes. The Hungarians recognize eight classes of paprika, ranging from very mild to hot. But paprika is not native to Hungary; it originated in Mexico.

Generally, paprika is a mild pepper that measures 250 to 1,000 SHU. You’re probably familiar with it as a dry spice powder. Cooks will often use the mildest paprika power simply as a coloring. This is a shame as paprika has a unique taste that can add a lot to various dishes.

Try paprika in soups or stews. It goes well with beef, chicken, and pork and can add a little zest to any vegetarian dish. You could also use paprika to rub into meat before barbecuing.

8 Jalapeño Peppers

Jalapeños can measure anywhere between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU. In Spanish, the name means “from Xalapa”—the capital city of Veracruz in Mexico. It’s now grown in various areas around the world and does well in the western and southwestern states of the U.S., among other places in the world.

You can grow jalapeños at home from seed, but it’s best not to use seeds from green peppers as these are not mature. Give your jalapeños plenty of soil, and make sure your pot is well-drained. You should soon have a crop of smooth, firm jalapeños 2-4 inches long.

Try jalapeños in macaroni cheese—they really make a difference in this family favorite.

7 Cayenne Peppers

The aptly-named English botanist mentioned Cayenne pepper in 1652, so we’ve known about them for a long time. You can find powdered Cayenne in most stores, but the name is sometimes used as a generic term for hot pepper, and some brands may contain a mixture of true Cayenne and other peppers. Cayenne rates 30,000 to 50,000 SHU, so it is quite hot.

There are various varieties of Cayenne, and they are easy to grow at home. You can use them fresh or dried. Cayenne is a common ingredient in various well-known commercial sauces—the excellent Original Louisiana Hot Sauce is one, but you can make your own sauce, too.

This simple recipe comes from Mike Hultquist at


  • As many Cayenne Peppers as you want
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar (Mike uses white-wine vinegar, but you could use any type)
  • Salt


  1. Collect your peppers from the garden, and clean and dry them.
  2. Chop finely with garlic.
  3. Put in a pot with vinegar and salt.
  4. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Leave it to cool.
  6. Put the mixture in a blender until smooth. You can sieve it afterward if you want it extra smooth.

6 Scotch Bonnet

This very hot pepper is not for the faint-hearted. With a Scoville rating between 100,000 and 350,000, even the mildest Scotch Bonnet packs a punch. The name comes from the pepper’s supposed resemblance to a traditional Scottish tam o’ shanter cap.

The Scotch Bonnet pepper is widely used in Caribbean cuisine and is responsible for the zing in jerk dishes with pork or chicken. But you can use Scotch Bonnets in any dish. Add a little to your favorite marinade before roasting or barbecuing—they will make a big difference.

You can grow these peppers indoors from seed. Plant them before the end of winter.

5 Shishito Peppers

Shishito peppers come from East Asia and have a mild rating of 50 to 200 SHU. One or two are a lot spicier than the others in a bunch of twenty Shishito peppers. In this way, they are very similar to Padron peppers, a Spanish cuisine favorite. Shishitos are about as long as your finger.

The best way to prepare Shishito peppers is to fry them in oil. Pop a hole in the peppers first to allow the expanding air inside to escape as they cook. You can serve them as a side dish sprinkled with salt. Your guests hold them by the stems as they eat them.

If you want to grow your own Shishitos, they like a lot of sunlight. Indoors, place them in a south-facing window.

4 Hatch Green Chile

The small town of Hatch in New Mexico proudly calls itself the “Chile Capital of the World.” And, if you are a fan of chile, Hatch should be on your bucket list of places to visit. Every year, on Labor Day weekend, the 2,000 inhabitants of Hatch celebrate the Hatch Chile Festival, but you can visit anytime to discover a town that lives for and loves chiles. Hatch, with its dedicated shops and restaurants, is on Interstate 25, about 40 miles north of Las Cruces.

The Hatch Green is just one of the many chiles grown in the area. With a Scoville rating of 1,000 to 8,000, this moderately hot pepper goes well in many dishes.

Check out this link for a host of recipes that use this essential ingredient in New Mexican cuisine.

3 Poblano Peppers

The mild and smoky Poblano adds an extra flavor to a wide range of dishes. Generally, the Scoville rating ranges from 1,000 to 2,000, but you can find that the occasional Poblano is a little hotter than the rest. Larger Poblanos can reach six inches long and three inches wide.

A great recipe idea is to stuff larger poblanos with your favorite filling and roast them. These make a tasty side dish with barbecued meat.

Like most peppers, you can grow Poblanos in a garden bed or pot. You should plant seeds after the last frost.

2 Serrano Peppers

Serrano peppers are native to the mountainous regions of Hidalgo and Puebla in Mexico. Serranos are hotter than jalapeños with a SHU of between 10,000 and 25,000. They are generally eaten raw and can be sliced into any dish.

If you like to make your own cheeseburgers, try dicing some Serranos into the cheese topping to add an extra tang to a tasty burger.

Serranos like the sun. If you want to grow them in a pot, keep them in a sunny location. If you want to raise plants outside, sow the seeds inside and let them germinate for eight weeks before transplanting them.

1 Habanero Peppers

Habaneros are hot peppers that can measure between 150,000 and 575,000 SHU. The pepper gets its name from the Cuban capital, Havana, although it isn’t a feature of typical Cuban cuisine. It originally comes from the Amazon basin, but the biggest producer nowadays is the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Havana was the port where traders first came across the pepper. People considered Habaneros the hottest peppers until “Smokin” Ed Currie came up with the Carolina Reaper.

Many pepper fans name the Habanero as their favorite pepper. It has a delicate taste that you can appreciate despite its heat.

You can use them in any dish that calls for a dash of chile, but you won’t need to use a lot of Habanero. Try adding a little to a Margarita cocktail to get a party off to a good start.

Habenero peppers grow well indoors and will produce a lot of fruit—you might find yourself giving away gallons of your hot sauce to friends and neighbors.


Written by Adrian Sharp

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