Before you even taste its heat, the ghost pepper makes a frightening impression, according to grower Joel Mowrey. “It’s bright red and ripply—it looks like a devil’s tongue,” he says. “It’s intimidating.”
The Bhut jolokia, as it’s called in India, is considered the hottest chili pepper on the planet, and it’s headed for Asheville plates. Mowrey, a Candler farmer and owner of Smoking J’s Hot Sauce Company, will roll out a Roasted Ghost hot sauce this month.
The pepper is drawing national interest for its heat, roughly three times that of the habanero. The ghost moniker, Mowrey notes, is probably a mistaken translation of the foreign name, which refers to the pepper’s home region in South Asia.
Known for his Firie Mango Habanero sauce, Mowrey began tinkering with peppers from the family garden about five years ago. Consistent demand for his hot sauce led to commercial production, which he started through Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a shared-use processing kitchen and business incubator in Candler.
Peppers now take up two of 10 acres at Mowrey’s Hominy Valley tree and shrub farm, including 250 painstakingly grown Bhut jolokia plants. The seeds are started in soil warmed to 90 degrees, and the peppers are harvested six months later. “There’s a real commitment to this,” says Mowrey, who believes he’s the only commercial grower in the Asheville area.
The result is a fiery but sweet red sauce that balances the pepper’s sharp citrus tones with roasted onions, tomatoes, and garlic. “It has a very fresh roasted flavor,” he says, perfect for chicken, fish, and rice dishes. But Mowrey keeps the Roasted Ghost sauce at a heat index of four or five out of 10, so it shouldn’t scare off less adventurous hot sauce fans.
Smoking J’s has more plans for the pepper, with a salsa, spice rub, and barbecue sauce slated for release this fall, plus a limited edition Roasted Ghost hot sauce that will climb closer to 10 on the heat scale. Consider yourself warned.
Smoking J’s Hot Sauce Company
36 Rootstock Rd.