Today I will be sharing the story of my Caribbean Red pepper plant.
I was buying gardening supplies for something else, and saw this “Caribbean Red” plant, and impulsively wanted it because, I don’t know, I like food and I like peppers and I was really into gardening at the time. I don’t have a smartphone so I wasn’t able to google it on the spot, but since I wouldn’t have minded something really hot, like a habanero, I figured the situation was win-win, and bought it.
For two whole years, the stupid thing refused to grow. It eventually turned into a shriveled stump and I ignored it. Then, the third summer, without me even tending to it, it began to grow leaves and branches… and then lots of leaves and branches… and then it EXPLODED into peppers. There were so many ripe peppers all at once that we figured the wisest thing to do was dehydrate most of them in the toaster oven and blend them into powder with a food processor (seeds and all), though we also tried eating some of them raw (without the seeds) in quesadillas and such.
We noticed that they were REALLY REALLY REALLY hot. We’d put just a TINY HALF-PINCH of the dried, powdered version into a big pot chili, pad see ew, or soup and it’d make the entire pot practically inedible. Even just smelling the powder was painful and dangerous—especially when I very stupidly took a whiff right after blending it. Eaten raw, even a microscopic speck was nearly deadly. We had so many peppers and so much powder but we could only use it in careful moderation, and no one would take the peppers as a gift (except one brave friend and her husband).
So I called my dad back home, who is the king of peppers (he grows literally dozens of jalapeno and habanero and scotch bonnets and other pepper plants and is pretty much immune to them) to tell him about my super-hot pepper and ask if he had heard of Caribbean Reds before. He hadn’t, and we both thought that, aside from insane specialty peppers like the Ghost Pepper, habaneros were about as hot as they come. But I kept telling him I could swear that these were hotter.
That’s when I finally googled it and learned that, first of all, it’s not a “Caribbean Red,” as it was labeled at the plant place. It’s a “Caribbean Red Hot“. And, on the Scoville scale of pepper hotness, it’s above red habaneros–and above them by a lot. Depending on whose chart you use, it’s more than twice as hot as them, or even nearly three times as hot. To be precise, Caribbean Red Hots come out to ~400,000 to 450,000 Scoville units, while most non-specialty Habaneros are in the 150,000 to 325,000 range. Not as hot as the crazy Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia Red) at ~1 mil. Scoville units, but hot cayenne peppers are only 30,000-50,000 and a “hot” jalapeno is only 3,500 to 6,000. So, you can imagine.
That’s where the story ends. After that prodigious summer, the plant died, and I’ve never found another. None of the habaneros or bell peppers I tried to grow that summer or the next two worked out, and I can’t really grow plants at my new place. We still have a lot of the powder, three years later, and it’s mellowed a bit but is still extremely hot. All in all, I’m glad I accidentally bought one of the hottest pepper plants on the planet.