The “Charleston Hot” chili pepper is a variety of the cayenne chili pepper. Upon its creation, the pepper was an overnight success for the USDA, which had difficulty keeping up with worldwide demand for seeds. Dukes stated the Charleston Hot was named for the hot summers in Charleston. Dukes and Fery attribute the pepper’s popularity to its spicy taste, the plant’s high yield, and its parasite resistance.
Originally created in 1993 by Plant Pathologist David Dukes and geneticist Richard Fery at the USDA Agricultural Service at Clemson University in South Carolina, the Charleston Hot was bred to resist the parasitic worm, root-knot nematode, which is why the Charleston Hot often has the “NR” (nematode resistant) moniker attached. The nematode parasite is an extreme pest, causing approximately 5% of global crop loss and is found in sub-tropical regions. Other NR varieties include the Carolina Cayenne, the Tiger Paw Habanero, the Charleston Belle, and the Carolina Wonder sweet bell peppers.
Being a very hot and small chili, the Charleston Hot may be used in chili’s and vinegar based sauces where the cayenne is used, but where extra heat is desired over the typical cayenne. As such, it may be used in dishes calling for fresh chili pepper, dried and powdered, or dried pepper flakes.
A low maintenance pepper, the Charleston Hot is easy to grow in a home garden once there is no chance of frost and temperatures are mild. Seeds should be planted where the plants will have full sun and the ability to grow up to 1.5 feet high. The pepper starts out green and turns from yellow, to orange and finally bright red, but may be harvested prior to full maturity. The chili peppers themselves will grow to between three and five inches in length in about 70 days. Because the pepper is nematode resistant, adding it to a home garden provides the added benefit of combating the parasite.
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Photo Credit: Dave’s Garden