Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

A beginner's guide to growing hot peppers

Adrienne Brown
Photography by
Adrienne Brown

Think nothing could be hotter than a jalapeno? If you're brave, there is a whole rainbow of heat you can grow in the garden.

Teraud says there are almost endless varieties of hot peppers, but you can break them down into the following basic groups:

1. Anaheim peppers and Poblano peppers
These peppers are sweet with just a touch of heat, says Teraud. They have around 1,000 Scoville units per pepper.

Varieties to try: Highlander, Banana pepper
Highlander peppers mature early, grow on a small plant and can adapt to slightly cooler regions—perfect for backyard gardens in Canada.

2. Jalapeno peppers
Slightly hotter than the Anaheim-level family, jalapeno peppers measure in at about 4,000 to 6,000 SHU.

Varieties to try: Mitla jalapenos, Hungarian wax pepper, Serrano peppers (these are slightly hotter at about 9,000 SHUs—but not as hot as the next group)
This is my favourite family of peppers, although I find jalapenos can vary dramatically. Some taste more like bell peppers and some burn my mouth like something much hotter. Cooking with hot peppers is always an adventure!

3. Chili peppers
Different types of chili peppers can have anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 SHU. The Cayenne pepper falls somewhere in the middle, close to the 50,000 SHU mark.

Varieties to try: Cayenne pepper, Tabasco pepper, Ring of Fire
We grow Ring of Fire in our garden every year because one plant produces lots of peppers, doesn’t take up too much space, and has nice small peppers that dry nicely.

4. Thai hot peppers
These are tropical plants, so they sometimes need longer growing seasons. “They tend to do better in a hot pot,” says Teraud. He also notes that chili peppers and milder varieties cause an immediate burn, whereas “the burn builds” with Thai peppers and hotter—so be careful!

Varieties to try: Ascent, Bird’s Eye Chili
Teraud says the Ascent pepper (about 80,000 SHU) does very well in his fields, so it’s likely good for gardens, too. Most other varieties of Thai peppers are good in pots or baskets, though.

5. Habaneros
Habaneros and their closely related cousin the Scotch Bonnet pepper were once believed to be the hottest of the hot. According to Teraud, an orange habanero has about 250,000 Scoville units while a red one may be closer to 300,000.

Varieties to try: Lemondrop, Chinense
For a long time, habaneros were the most menacing peppers in my father’s garden. I’m still wary of these bright little peppers, but I also know they’re not the scariest variety.

6. The hottest peppers in the world
When it comes to heat, a pepper from Bangladesh called the Bhut Jalokia chili pepper (also known as Naga Jolokia or the ghost chili) holds the world record. It ranks way up at the one million mark on the Scoville scale. “These can cause agony for up to an hour,” says Teraud. “Only the loonies should be dealing with those!” It’s important to note, though that many other peppers are contenders for the hottest.

Varieties to try (if you dare): Trinidad 7-pot Douglah pepper, Bhi-Jalokia
Supposedly, the 7-pot pepper from Trinidad gets its name because “it takes one pepper to spice seven pots of stew,” says Teraud.

While I’m happy to grow any type of hot pepper, you won’t necessarily find me tasting anything hotter than a jalapeno. On the other hand, my husband is tenderly raising some of the world-record holding Naga Jolokia peppers…

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