“It’s a pretty cool niche and still has a very big following,” Barkdull said of the ghost pepper. “We don’t have any problem selling it.”
He added that more competition springs up every year, but the pepper’s longer growing season (five to six months) and the chance of getting faulty seed makes it tricky to grow.
“Probably 80% of the bhut jolokia seed available on the open market are imposters,” he said.
Hot peppers began coming out of California in May and will continue into July.
Wiers Farm, Willard, Ohio, has devoted 24 acres to various varieties of hot peppers, but the jalapeño remains the most popular, said Ben Wiers, vice president of operations.
“Production (of hot peppers) has steadily increased over the last six years,” he said. “As people get used to spicy flavors, it keeps increasing interest for hotter peppers.”
The farm plans to add about 15% to its hot pepper production this year. Harvest out of Ohio will start around the first of August.
In New Mexico, Bensinger expects harvest of superhots to begin in September, while other specialty peppers run May through October and longer out of Mexico. The New Mexico green chile harvest begins in late July.
Bensinger added that because demand has been so strong, he plans to add acreage at his operation and grow peppers in a greenhouse for the first time.
“We have people who want peppers year-round and are willing to pay the higher price.”
For Bensinger, the most popular peppers he grows are the Trinidad varieties, mostly for specialty markets and the foodservice industry.
“That would be a valid user of these peppers,” he said. “You probably won’t see them go into the public supermarkets, but as people start to understand the heat mechanisms and respect them, they’ll get more comfortable with hot peppers.”