NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the weather turning colder, it's chili season. For a brave few, that means sampling a new breed of extremely hot chili peppers that go way beyond Tabasco sauce or jalapenos.
There has been an explosion over the past several years of new, exotic hot pepper cross-breeds, each one striving to be rated hotter than the last. The Guinness World Record for hottest pepper has changed hands several times since 2011.
The hotness of peppers is measured in " Scoville units." Tabasco sauce is typically 2,000 to 5,000 Scoville units. Take a bite out of a jalapeno pepper and you'll be exposing your tongue to up to 10,000 Scoville units. While for most people that's hot, it's only a fraction of the spiciness found in some of the world's hottest peppers. For instance, a typical habanero pepper, which can be found in many local grocers, can be up to 35 times as hot as the hottest jalapenos and 70 times as hot as Tabasco sauce, clocking in at the high end at 350,000 Scoville units. And there are peppers that are much, much hotter.
While the hottest pepper in the world is a matter of heated (pun intended) debate, any one in the top 12 will give spicy food daredevils a challenge. Pro-tip: If you do find yourself face-to-face with one of the peppers listed below, dairy products like milk or sour cream should help relieve the pain; while the instinct to drink a cold glass of water may be strong, water will only spread the burn, so steer clear.
Click through to see which pepper is the hottest, according to CayenneDiane.com, which tracks the hottest peppers in the world. And, as a bonus, at the end of the slideshow, see the three best peppers for cooking chili, according to SeriousEats.com.
12. Trinidad Scorpion CARDI - 800,000 to 1,000,000 Scoville units
This rare pepper originally comes from the Carribean island of Trinidad and was developed by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, which fosters agriculture in the Caribbean and produces specialized hot peppers.
11. Bhut Jolokia Chocolate - 800,000 to 1,001,304 Scoville units
This is a variation of the Bhut Jolokia red that is sweeter than its sibling, which is nick-named "The Ghost Pepper" and is slightly hotter.
10. Bhut Jolokia or The Ghost Pepper - 800,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville units
This pepper, originally cultivated in India, was once recognized as the hottest in the world.
9. Trinidad 7 Pot/Pod Primo - 1,000,000 Scoville units
This cross between the Trinidad 7 Pot and The Ghost Pepper was invented in 2005.
8. Trinidad 7 Pot - 1,000,000 Scoville units
This small Caribbean chili is said to be potent enough to flavor seven pots of stew.
7. Gibralta - 1,086,844 Scoville units
This blend of pepper is grown in Spain but was developed in the UK from several Indian chilies.
6. Infinity Chili Pepper - 1,176,182 Scoville units
This extremely hot pepper developed in the UK held the world record for hottest for just two weeks in 2011.
5. Naga Viper - 1,382,118
This three-way hybrid between several kinds of hot peppers dethroned the Infinity Chili Pepper as hottest in the world in 2011. It's unstable, however, meaning that its offspring aren't exactly like their parents.
4. 7 Pod Douglah - 923,000 to 1,853,396 Scoville units
This pepper is best known for its dark brown and purple skin - and its incredible heat.
3. Trinidad Scorpion "Butch T" Pepper - 1,463,700 Scoville units
The "scorpion" in the name of this pepper comes from its shape - it has a pointy tail the the stinger of a scorpion. It was briefly the hottest pepper in the world, until early 2012.
2. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion - 1,200,000 to 2,000,000 Scoville units
Though it's been recognized as the hottest pepper by the New Mexico State University Chili Pepper Institute, it has never been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.
1. Carolina Reaper - 1,569,383 to 2,200,000 Scoville units
As of November 2013, this is the world's hottest pepper. It was cultivated by Ed Currie of PuckerButt Pepper Company in South Carolina. It was originally named HP22B and is a cross of the Naga Morich pepper and the Red Savina pepper.
Bonus: The three best peppers for chili
When it comes to making chili, it's not all about the heat. According to the folks over at The Food Lab at SeriousEats.com, the best peppers for chili are ancho chilies, pasilla chilies, and mulato chilies.
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-Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.