How to breed peppers

Did you hear the news this week about the new hottest pepper in the world* – the Infinity pepper? Want to try your hand at breeding something better? Well just in time, I have the next video in my pollination methods series of videos available for you to watch: Yes, peppers. The pepper genus, Capsicum is complex and although there may be different species, you can still make crosses between them if you know which crosses to make. The video explains it all. Enjoy!

*Shortly after I recorded audio for this video, it was announced that the Naga Jolokia (or Naga Morich) pepper which I had described as the hottest pepper in the world at 1 million Scoville units, was apparently unseated by another pepper called the Naga Viper. At 1.36 million Scoville units, here is the spicy fruit:

I had to do a little re-working of the video to make sure it could never get dated as backyard breeders continue to breed crazier and crazier peppers. The fresh news about the Infinity Pepper has me a little puzzled, because it is supposed to be 1.18 million Scoville units, which is not as hot as the Viper. The Viper apparently may need to go through a little more testing to have its level of heat confirmed, but then again, how much confirmation as the Infinity had?
I also found the Wikipedia explanation of the tentativeness of the Viper’s status confusing. It says that being an ‘unstable’ hybrid puts the result in question. If you can regenerate a three-parent or two-parent hybrid consistently so that it is a recognizable variety, its hybrid status should not matter when it comes to determining if it has a consistently high level of spice.
Breeding true should not be necessary in my humble opinion as a plant geneticist, because if you watch my video, you will know that you can generate hybrid pepper seeds on a large enough scale for that not to matter!

22 comments

  1. Fabulous video: one of my favourite plants, both for growing and eating!
    But it leaves me hungry for more: detailed phylogenetics, genetics and breeding history, modern techniques (male-sterile?), and even ethnobotanical history. Research and Taxonomic Auth cites? Who’s who in the research? Books? And, best-of-all, sources of material for breeding….
    Of course, that’s the sign of a good cook: leave ’em wanting a second helping!

  2. Cool video, just might have to give that a try sometime. Though I think the craziest pepper has already been created. You’ve heard of the Peter pepper right? The only NSFW produce.

  3. Sure does. i think the bhut jolokia was the hottest for 3 or 4 years and now all the sudden the record has changed hands a number of times in just a year. Exciting stuff!

  4. Gotta wonder … do insects attack the fruit of hot peppers? And, if they do, do the insects die? Hmmm… a competitor for Bt…

  5. Eric,
    I think the theory is that birds do not perceive capsaicin as unpleasant, but mammals do: some difference in the chemistry of pain receptors (TRPV1?). Since the wild plants’ seeds are dispersed effectively by non-chewing frugivorous birds, and not dispersed well by chewing animals like rodents, Capsicum is/was under selection pressure to deploy this novel chemical. Capsaicin itself may have initially been useful to the plant as an antimicrobial; it shows some antifungal activity. Wouldn’t it be cool if aerial spraying of capsaicin were found to be a good treatment for stem rust? That would make Wheat Country just a bit more exciting!
    It puzzles me that there are products out there that claim to use capsaicin as an active insecticidal ingredient: what evidence is there that all or some pestiferous insects are mammal-style sensitive rather than bird-style? The Plodias in my storage area certainly were not deterred from whole dried fruit and seeds!
    http://www.hotpepperwax.com/Products/Overview.html

    1. You might be assuming that the only garden pests are insects. Believe me, rabbits can do plenty of damage if they get into a backyard garden. Deer are even more destructive. A suspension of ground up dried peppers is often worth spraying.

  6. Hi,
    I would like to just point out that the photo on this article is off a Bhut Jolokia “Ghost Pepper, Bih Jolokia” you can see the original photo on our webpage (clifton chilli club) under “varities” The viper is slighlty different in apperance. I took that photo 😉 Happy for you to use, please if poss ref to our web site
    We like the article.
    Thanks

  7. Hi, I have a question about the sort I hardly find anything from online: the Yellow Suriname also called madame Jeanette. Im not talking about the yellow adjuma which is mixed up often with the Madame Jeanette. The Madame Jeanette is very wrinkly and has an delicious taste. Also very very hot. My question is: is cutting back the branches creating any more harvest on this plant?

    1. Hi Paul,
      I’m not sure about cutting back the branches, although I am not an expert on pepper horticultural techniques. It doesn’t sound like that would increase the harvest, because the flowers come out at each node, and the stems branch out 2 to each node. Cutting back, it would seem, would not spur the growth of new branches, but prevent the growth of more nodes (and thus flowers) on the branches that are being cut off. Does that make sense? I recommend checking out some of those pepper breeding forums – while I was making this video I found a vibrant community of backyard pepper breeders, and they might be able to answer your question better than I.

  8. Got up to eat some peppers right after watching this vid, the way it puts it down itself makes you such an appetite for it, hmmmm, I love peppers!

  9. Second Q – you mentioned bulk production of F1 hybrids – how are the plants with infertile male parts produced?
    Thanks, Steve.

    1. Good question. Let me get back to you on that. I don’t remember off the top of my head which species it was, but I think it is in the same breeding complex as Capsicum annuum.

  10. Awesome! I am breeding a Bhut Jokolia and a Carolina Reaper, then breeding a Naga Jokolia and a Trinidad Scorpion, and finally, breeding them together. But that’s not done! I will breed that with a Habanero and that with a breed of a Cayenne pepper and a Tabasco Pepper. I am trying to set the world record for hottest pepper in the world. It will be approx. 95 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU). To the plants!

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