Some like it hot. And some like it really hot. Superhot varieties of peppers are gaining in popularity and making a space for themselves in the hot pepper market along with their popular pepper cousins, the jalapeño, serrano and habañero.
Spicy peppers run the gamut from relatively mellow to tear-inducing, and with more than 400 varieties worldwide there are many to choose from.
According to The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2012 data, 27% of customers bought specialty peppers within the past 12 months.
Superhot varieties — such as the scorpions — are the name of the game for Marlin Bensinger, member of The Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and farming and technical director and owner at Chromtec LLC, Las Cruces, N.M. Bensinger, who’s been in the hot pepper business for 45 years, said he grows six or seven Trinidad varieties and 10-11 other varieties.
He grows the Trinidad moruga scorpion, which as of this February, was listed as the world’s hottest chili pepper at more than 2 million Scoville heat units.
“We’re finding the desire for peppers that are super hot is going up each year,” Bensinger said. “We sold everything we could produce last year.”
His growing partner, Dave DeWitt, also a member of The Chile Pepper Institute and president of Sunbelt Shows Inc., which produces the National Fiery Foods and Bebecue Show in Albuquerque, N.M., agreed.
“This past year was a breakthrough year for fresh-market superhot chilies, namely those chilies that measure between 500,000 and 1.2 million Scoville heat units. We had a 1.2-acre field in Las Cruces (N.M.) growing Trinidad scorpions and its subvarieties, plus Scotch bonnets, and we sold every pod harvested,” DeWitt said. “We were getting $16 to $18 a pound for the hottest ones, and all I had to do to sell them was send out e-mails to my (customers).”
As a year-round hot pepper shipper, Gilroy, Calif.-based Uesugi Farms Inc. grows 15 or more varieties of chilies.
“The demand for hot peppers grows every year, in all parts of the country,” salesman Damon Barkdull said. “Some varieties are retail-driven, like the red fresno or pasilla, and some varieties are processor-driven, like the bnana sax pepper or sweet jalapeño.”
Uesugi Farms also grows the superhot bhut jolokia chili pepper — also known as the ghost pepper — which not long ago held the title of world’s hottest pepper. It claims to be 400% hotter than Tabasco sauce.