Kitchen Gardening

How Hot Are ‘Thai Dragon’ Peppers?

Yesterday my son discovered a new level of hot.

Thai dragon peppers
My Thai Dragon plant has some little guys that are nearly ready to harvest, some that are still green, and even some little flowers.
Photo/Illustration: Chris McLaughlin

Yesterday my son discovered a new level of hot. We had a family birthday celebration at our house and everyone was out back when I pulled several ‘Thai Dragon’ peppers off of my plant. I had grown these heirlooms for just such an occasion. Several brave, heat-loving souls were told to take just a small bite of the pepper – just enough to get an idea of the amazing heat packed into those small babies.

Using just the very end of their front teeth, each one of them carefully bit off a teeny tip off of a pepper. It was great fun to see them consider it for a second, then watch their eyes get big as they held their mouths open in between saying some version of, “OH! There it is!”. While nodding and fanning their faces everyone also agreed that behind the heat was some pretty darn good flavor.

We were all agreeing that Thai Dragon was hotter than any pepper any of us had tasted before. Hotter than Tabasco and cayenne for sure. Much, much hotter than Jalapeños. Just about that time in walks the man-boy; my twenty-year- old son. I handed him a short pepper and he said that he was just going to pop the whole thing into his mouth. I warned the kid not to do it.

Of course, he is twenty and we kinda wondered if he would do it despite the warning because twenty-year-old boys always have something to prove. Somehow we all ended up in a semi-circle around him. Everyone took turns reminding him to only take a small bite. And that young, manly-man threw the whole thing into his mouth and chewed.

We waited. Then I think we saw his head catch fire. He ran to the sink and put his mouth under the faucet. Then he grabbed the milk container, poured it into a bowl and plunged his tongue into it. Some of us were shouting what we sounded like burn remedies and some of us were just laughing until we couldn’t breathe (I’ll let you decide which one I was doing). My son headed for the swimming pool and stuck his whole head under water. He brushed his teeth, ate some bread, and then carrots. My family is a sick bunch, we just couldn’t stop laughing. Ahhhh, good times.

stopped the burn. Okay, that’s not entirely true; eventually time did. Anyway, just how hot are Thai Dragon peppers?

Thai Dragon Measured in Scoville Units

Capsaicin is the substance in hot peppers that give them the burn. Different pepper varieties have varying amounts of capsaicin, and therefore, heat levels. The capsaicin is measure in Scoville Units. For instance, Bell peppers and Banana Wax peppers are tasty but mild, and are “0” on the Scoville scale because they contain no heat. Some peppers are considered mild, but can have a little bite bringing them to about 90 units on the scale. These may be called spicy, but still not what is considered hot.

It’s not a perfect scale because heat can vary from plant to plant, season to season, and so on. But generally speaking, a Jalapeño is anywhere from about 2,500-5,000 Scoville units. And Thai Dragon is somewhere between 50,000-100,000 units. Lots of fire in that 2″ pepper my son popped into his mouth, yes? Believe it or not, he could have done worse. Both Scotch Bonnet and Caribbean Red are twice as hot as Thai Dragon, and Habaneros reach up to 325,000 Scoville Units.

*I grew Thai Dragon heirlooms. However, there are Thai Dragon hybrids available, as well.

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