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Native to Assam and other states in Northeast India, the “Bhut Jolokia” or “Ghost Pepper” (Capsicum chinenseJacq.) is one of the hottest chili peppers in the world.
The ghost pepper’s Scoville units average about 1,000,000 SHU. Ghost peppers are so hot that they are used by the Indian military as a key ingredient in creating anti-terrorist chili grenades. 
However, ghost peppers are primarily used in cuisine, not weaponry. Locals have used the extreme heat, pungency, and high-quality fragrance of ghost peppers to flavor curries and treat headaches for centuries.
Ghost Pepper (bhut jolokia) Origin
The Ghost Pepper has natively grown for generations in the floodplains of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and other parts of Northeast India.
The “Bhut Jolokia” goes by many names in the various local languages, including “Bih Jolokia” (poison chile) and “Naga Jolokia” (Naga referring to a tribe of aggressive warriors).
The name “Bhut Jolokia” means “Bhutan pepper” in Assamese, but the homonym meaning of “Ghost Pepper” has stuck in English.
Other variations on the name or close relatives of the ghost pepper include the Bhoot Jolokia, Dorset Naga, Raja Mirchi, Borbih Jolokia, Nagahari, Naga Viper, and Poison Chili.
The Bhut Jolokia has an enigmatic genetic and taxonomic history.
Ghost peppers previously were grouped under Capsicum frutescens before genetic analysis in 2007 revealed it to be a natural hybrid of Capsicum chinense (79% of the genes) with some Capsicum frutescens genes.
Others have even created a new species, Capsicum assamicum, for bhut jolokia peppers, but this new categorization is not widely accepted. 
How hot are Ghost Peppers?
The Bhut Jolokia Scoville Heat Unit average is 850,000 – 1,041,427 SHU, though some varieties can reach as high as 1,500,000 SHU.
Once the reigning “hottest chili pepper in the world” in 2007, the Bhut Jolokia has since been superseded by the “Trinidad Scorpion Butch T” pepper (1,463,700 SHU) in 2011 and the “Carolina Reaper” pepper (1,569,300 SHU) in 2013. 
For heat comparison, poblano peppers rank at just 1-2,000 SHU, Anaheim peppers (1-5,000 SHU), Jalapeño peppers (3-8,000 SHU), serranos (10-25,000 SHU), cayenne peppers (25-50,000 SHU), tabasco peppers (30-50,000 SHU), Thai chilis (50-100,000 SHU), Scotch Bonnet Peppers (100-350,000 SHU), and Red Savina (350-577,000 SHU).
Bhut jolokia Plant Care
The Bhut Jolokia is an extremely hard-to-grow pepper, especially for novice gardeners.
Because the ghost pepper is an interspecific hybrid, self-pollination can be difficult. Consider growing a habanero plant next to the Bhut Jolokia to encourage pollination. If growing indoors, it may be necessary to manually pollinate plants with a soft paintbrush.
Ghost peppers can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall with many flowers, sometimes up to three per node. However, the first sets of flowers will frequently drop without producing any pods, so be patient.
Besides pollination challenges, the Bhut jolokia also requires plenty of sunshine, water, and nutrients to thrive.
Plant ghost peppers 1 foot apart within rows and 3 feet between rows for optimum growth.
Plant Bhut Jolokias in well-draining, pH 6.0-6.5, sandy loam or clay loam soil that is moderately moist (not soggy) and never completely dry.
Like other peppers, water ghost peppers with 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of water weekly. Water frequently and deeply, and ensure the soil stays moist but never soggy.
Hose irrigation will prevent leaves from turning wet, which attracts diseases and pests.
Ghost peppers require full sun (6-8 hours of direct sunlight).
Humidity & Temperature
Plants should be kept in daytime temperatures above 70°F (21°C) and no colder than 60°F (15°C) at night. Heat over 90°F (32°C) may cause blossoms to drop and delay germination.
High humidity between 50-70% is ideal for ghost peppers.
Apply a low nitrogen (NPK 5-10-10) fertilizer during transplanting and again every 2-4 weeks after. Too much nitrogen may cause foliage to grow excessively.
When fruits or pods begin to set, replace the fertilizer with a high-potassium 9-15-15 NPK ratio fertilizer. The extra potassium will encourage pepper pod development and growth.
Organic gardeners can use substitutes such as fish emulsion, bone meal, or kelp.
Diseases & Pests
Ghost peppers can fall victim to common pepper pests such as white flies, aphids, slugs, snails, thrips, cutworms, pepper maggots, pepper weevils, spider mites, flea beetles, mites, leafminers, tomato fruit worms, and other pests.
Control pests with horticultural oils such as neem oil or pesticides.
Similar to other nightshade plants, ghost peppers may be affected by verticillium wilt, anthracnose, Cercospora leaf spot, wet rot, blossom-end rot, tomato spotted wilt virus, mosaic virus, phytophthora blight, southern blight, and other diseases.
Bacterial spot most commonly afflicts peppers and tomatoes, especially in warm, wet, and humid weather.
Avoiding water splatter and soaking seeds in water and 1:10 parts bleach to water before seeding may help prevent bacterial spots from developing.
For treatment, use copper-containing bactericides during wet conditions or when signs of yellow-green circular lesions on young leaves develop.
Practice crop rotation to avoid diseases that can stay dormant in the soil.
Days to maturity
Bhut Jolokias take 160 days after transplanting before harvesting. Germination may take 36 days or longer.
If temperatures are very high (above 90°F or 32°C), not too many peppers will develop until the summer heat winds down.
Typical pods will grow 2.5-3.3 inches (6-9 cm) and ripen from light to dark green, before turning partially yellow-orange and then bright red.
Ghost Pepper Plant Stages
Below are the ghost pepper growth stages:
- Germination (0-40 days) – Soil temperatures need to be between 80-90°F (27-32°C) for proper germination and may take up to 20-40 days to germinate.
- Adolescent and Growth Stage (40-80 days) – Several sets of true leaves will develop 3-4 weeks after germination. At this stage, plants can be transplanted. After transplantation, pay attention to watering and feeding needs, as plants grow rapidly during this period. Prune flower buds at this stage to encourage more vine and leaf growth.
- Flowering (80-120 days) – At this stage, white or yellow fruit blossoms should begin to develop. Although self-pollinating, ghost peppers are hybrids so may have difficulty pollinating. Consider growing a habanero plant nearby or using a soft paintbrush to manually pollinate if grown indoors.
- Fruiting and Ripening (120-160+ days) – Once peppers start to form, switch to a high-phosphorus low-nitrogen fertilizer to encourage fruit growth. Peppers can be harvested green, but letting the peppers mature to red will increase flavors and spiciness levels.
How to Grow Ghost Peppers from Seed
Because of the long growing season (160+ days), start ghost pepper seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before the first frost date.
Soak seeds in water overnight before sowing and sow ¼ inch deep into the growing medium. A small amount of bleach or hydrogen peroxide (1 part to 9 parts water) may help kill any seed bacteria or mold.
Consider sowing in a biodegradable seed tray for easy transplanting.
Water or spray gently after sowing and keep soils moist and warm. Use a heat mat and grow light to reach the ideal soil temperature of 80-90°F (27-32°C).
Seeds will germinate 2-3 weeks after sowing but may take up to 40 days.
6-8 weeks after germination, plants should be 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) tall and ready for transplanting to a larger pot (if growing in a container) or hardened off for the outdoors.
Growing Ghost Peppers in Pots
Ghost peppers can also be grown indoors in a pot at least 14 inches (35 cm) deep and 12 inches (30cm) wide. Consider a 5-gallon (19 liters) or larger container for ample room.
Clay or terracotta pots tend to drain better. If soils are soggy, consider upgrading the soil to a quality potting mix with mixtures of vermiculite, perlite, peat moss (though not too much), and builders sand.
Harvesting Ghost Peppers
Ghost pepper varieties exhibit a diversity of colors, sizes, and textures when ripening.
Colors range from light green, yellow-green, to dark green in young fruits to light red, bright red, bright orange, and even chocolate or white in mature fruits of some cultivars.
Besides the change in coloration, mature fruits will exhibit shiny and semi-smooth to wrinkled textures, depending on the cultivar.
Mature pepper pods typically reach 2.5-3.3 inches (6-9 cm) long. Use gloves and shears when harvesting to avoid contact with the hot oils.
Ghost peppers will stay fresh after harvesting for 3-5 days at room temperature, but will last longer (3-5 weeks) if refrigerated at 45-50°F (7-10°C) and 95% relative humidity.
Freezing, pickling, or making a sauce will help keep chilis edible for longer.
Ghost Pepper Varieties
Bhut Jolokias come in several variants with different colors, tastes, and spiciness levels:
- Green Ghost Pepper – Green ghost peppers are just immature versions of the typical red peppers. They taste grassier with fruity and flowery notes. Green peppers are less spicy and mildly acidic, but the heat still layers on the tongue.
- Red Ghost Pepper – These are the most typical ghost peppers. They have an intense fruit and sweet chili flavor, with smoky and sometimes bitter notes. The heat does not kick in until 30-45 seconds after eating and will intensify over the next 10-15 minutes before subsiding after 30-40 minutes.
- Orange Ghost Pepper – These are the most prolific growers. They also have a citrusy flavor, making them good for hot sauces. Orange peppers also grow smaller, making them ideal for growing in containers. Pods are also less wrinkly.
- Yellow Ghost Pepper – A mutant of the regular ghost pepper, this natural variety is yellow, slender, and pointy when mature. Some claim the yellow peppers are not as hot as the red, but they taste just as good.
- Peach Ghost Pepper – Another mutation, the peach ghost pepper grows slightly larger pods than the typical red peppers. The flavor is also a bit fruitier and less spicy.
- Purple Ghost Pepper – Purple pods grow smaller than other varieties and are similar in heat to an orange habanero, making them less spicy than other bhut jolokias. Pods may turn red if left on the vine.
- Bhut Jolokia Chocolate Pepper – Another variant, this pepper is known for its long germination time (up to 6 weeks). The chocolate color adds a smoky flavor and aromatic undertones. The chocolate ghost pepper Scoville level is the same as red (850,000-1,000,000 SHU), but it has a distinct sweet aftertaste.
- White Ghost Pepper – This is a rare but natural variant of the Red Bhut Jolokia. Pods will mature from green to a creamy white color with smoother textures. These peppers produce many pods that still pack the heat and fruity flavors. They are highly sought after by those who want to make white chili sauce.
Ghost pepper vs. Carolina Reaper
The main difference between the ghost pepper or Bhut Jolokia and the Carolina Reaper is the heat: Carolina Reapers can reach up to 2,200,000 SHU vs. an average of 1,000,000 SHU for ghost peppers.
Carolina Reapers have an intensely fruity and sweet taste with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, cherry, and/or chocolate followed by an earthy finish. The typical red ghost pepper tastes fruity and sweet but with smoky undertones and sometimes a bitter finish.
However, you’d be hard-pressed to discern the flavors in between all the crying, sweat, and heat.
Chocolate Ghost pepper vs. Ghost pepper
The main difference between the typical red ghost pepper and the chocolate ghost pepper is the smokier and aromatic undertones present in the chocolate ghost peppers. The chocolate ghost pepper also has a distinct sweet aftertaste, though the spiciness levels are comparable to a red ghost pepper (both are 850,000 – 1,000,000 SHU).
Ghost chocolate peppers are also known for their longer germination time (up to 6 weeks).
Frequently Asked Questions
Ghost peppers are frost-tender perennial plants, but they are often grown as annual plants in locations where frost will kill them. In tropical climates, ghost peppers can survive up to 10 years. However, in the typical European or North American climate, ghost peppers last 3-5 years.
Not really. The chocolate in chocolate ghost peppers refers to the brown chocolate color of the pods and the smoky flavors. Chocolate ghost peppers have a fruity, sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor with heat that gradually builds up.
Feed ghost peppers with a low nitrogen (NPK 5-10-10) fertilizer during transplanting and again every 2-4 weeks after. Too much nitrogen may cause foliage to grow excessively. When fruits or pods begin to set, replace the fertilizer with a high-potassium 9-15-15 NPK ratio fertilizer. The extra potassium will encourage pod development and growth. Organic gardeners can use substitutes such as fish emulsion, bone meal, or kelp.
 NPR. (2010b, March 25). World’s Hottest Pepper: The Perfect Weapon? NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125184572.
 Verma, Praveen & Rawat, K. & Das, Niren & Pradhan, B.. (2013). A botanical enigma of India’s hottest chilli Bhoot Jolokia (Capsicum chinense Jacq). New York Science Journal. 6. 49-51.
 Lynch, K. (2013, November 19). Confirmed: Smokin Ed’s Carolina Reaper sets new record for hottest chilli. Guinness World Records. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/ 2013/11/confirmed-smokin-eds- carolina-reaper-sets-new-record-for-hottest-chilli-53033.