It seems that every time a new superhot pepper is born – one that seriously rivals the nuclear heat of the "World's Hottest" Carolina Reaper – a folklore get's its wings.
The Dragon's Breath chili pepper is a prime example. Just look at these initial articles written on the Dragon's Breath, which still linger near the top of Google search results today:
and this one from "livescience.com":
and finally "myrecipes.com" says:
But, without even reading the justifications for these eye-catching headlines, there are a couple obvious problems:
1. The people who wrote these articles have likely never eaten a Dragon's Breath pepper. If they had tried it themselves, they would have either suffered the tragic fate they so shockingly warn about, or they wouldn't have written the article at all (because they'd realize it's not true). I'd be surprised if any of them have even seen a Dragon's Breath in person, or any superhot pepper for that matter.
2. There are now a handful of videos out there of people eating a Dragon's Breath pepper (or, in the case of Johnny Scoville, 4 Dragons's Breath peppers!) and while the painful heat is evident in their teary eyes, they didn't die.
So where did these stories come from and what's actually true? Read on to learn the facts about Dragon's Breath and what it's actually like to grow and eat a fresh Dragon's Breath pepper.
Species: Capsicum Chinense
Origin: United Kingdom
Heat Level: 2,480,000 Scoville Heat Units (Unofficial)
Flavor: Floral, Bitter
Pod Size: 1-2 inches
Neil Price is credited as the original breeder of Dragon's Breath. He's a chili farmer who collaborated with Nottingham University to test special plant food and the idea of using capsaicin oil as a skin anesthetic. Then, Mike Smith, a horticulturist in Wales, further developed the Dragon's Breath plant with the goal of winning Plant of the Year at the 2017 Chelsea Flower Show.
Although Dragon's Breath didn't win any awards for its looks, it was soon realized that Dragon's Breath's fruit was wickedly hot, potentially rivaling the heat of the infamous Carolina Reaper pepper. It was dubbed "Dragon's Breath" after the official symbol of Wales, the Welsh Dragon.
This is where things get interesting. Like so many other World's Hottest pepper contenders (Primotalii, Pepper X, Gator Jigsaw, etc.) Dragon's Breath has never been officially tested by Guinness World Records. Smith claims that another source tested one of his Dragon's Breath pods at 2.48 million Scoville Heat Units. If true, that would make Dragon's Breath about 1.5 times hotter than a Carolina Reaper.
But remember, each pepper is unique – even those of the same variety. One Dragon's Breath could be a whole lot hotter than another, even if they look identical. All this is part of the mystery and fun with growing and tasting new superhot peppers!
We'll have to wait and see what Guinness reports, but based on our experiences growing and gingerly tasting Dragon's Breath – there's no doubt the heat is right up there with the likes of Scorpion and Reaper peppers. It has a consistent long burn but seemingly less throat heat than a Reaper, it's more of a mouth and tongue burn. As with all superhots, you'll want to handle your Dragon's Breath seeds and pods with extreme caution and care.
Now, back to the controversial question at hand. Hopefully you've realized by now that the answer is NO, eating a Dragon's Breath pepper will not kill you. Even if the Dragon's Breath Scoville Heat does push past the 2 million mark, you'd have to eat a ridiculous amount of them to be in any serious danger.
According to an article by Gizmodo, which does a great job breaking down all the scientific equations that determine SHUs, the claimed 2.48 million SHUs would mean there are 0.023 grams of capsaicin per gram of fresh Dragon's Breath. Meanwhile, the minimum lethal dose of capsaicin is 5.8 grams. You'd have to eat over a half a pound of Dragon's Breath (about 50 to 100 pods) to reach that level.
That being said, don't go popping a Dragon's Breath in your mouth thinking it'll be no big deal. It's going to burn like crazy, especially if you have a low tolerance to heat or have never experienced pure super hot pepper heat.
Remember how Dragon's Breath was originally developed with Nottingham University to be used as a topical anesthetic? That's all 100% true. Some people are allergic to traditional anesthetics so scientists are looking for alternative ways to effectively numb skin. It seems as if this was the origin for all the outlandish articles claiming Dragon's Breath causes death. As with any medical-related endeavor, there are warnings that must be applied. In this case the researchers at Nottingham stated, "it could potentially cause a type of anaphylactic shock for someone who eats it, burning the airways and closing them up." It was really just a standard allergy warning that clickbait journalists distorted and ran with.
It's uncertain if anyone is currently using Dragon's Breath for anesthetic purposes, but I did have the fun experience of accidentally touched my face after harvesting some Dragon's Breath seeds and can confirm – it's so hot there is a bit of a numbing effect after the initial stinging burn.
As far as more palatable purposes, Dragon's Breath peppers are great for making insanely hot dried flakes and powders. Although they absolutely ooze with capsaicin oil upon cutting them, the pods are fairly thin walled so they dry quickly and crush easily. A little pinch goes a long way!
We also froze a good amount of our Dragon's Breath pods and are looking forward to experimenting with Dragon's Breath hot sauces and other spicy recipes during these slower winter months.
As far as superhots go, Dragon's Breath peppers are surprisingly easy to grow. This past season we grew about 30 Dragon's Breath plants in zone 5. After seed germination and careful hardening, we put some in 5 gallon buckets and others directly in a garden bed.
The plants started developing pods just over a month after being outside.
About a week later the initial green pods started evolving to shades of orange and then red.
After another 2.5 weeks we started harvesting fully ripe pods and continued to fertilize with bone meal that's high in phosphate and calcium.
We found Dragon's Breath plants to be very resilient to all types of weather and not require much water. There was one stretch of extreme summer heat that caused a bit of yellowing and leaf droop, but after giving them a little extra water at sundown they were looking green and healthy again the next day. In early October the weather started cooling down so we covered plants with frost protection fabric for a few weeks. Once it was consistently cold we moved the bucket plants into an indoor garage grow space where they kept producing through November.
One of the most interesting aspects of growing Dragon's Breath was seeing the various pod shapes and sizes. Many developed tails akin to a Reaper, while others resembled more of the various 7 Pot pepper shapes.
And the size! Based off the images of Dragon's Breath pods I was seeing online, I expected little teaspoon sized pods (turns out someone photographed immature pods). Instead I was pleasantly surprised with a bunch of hefty 2-inch pods. The floral, slightly bitter flavor isn't for everyone but overall it's a fun superhot to grow with solid heat.
If you're looking to grow Dragon's Breath peppers from seed, the first step is to get high-quality Dragon's Breath seeds. Don't wait, we have a limited-stock and they're going fast. Happy Gardening!