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We Finally Know The Key Ingredient That Makes Popeye's Famous Chicken Spicy

popeyes chicken sandwich
popeyes chicken sandwich - Scott Olson/Getty Images

Popeyes' signature spicy chicken isn't necessarily for the faint of heart. Whether you're getting a two piece chicken meal for yourself or a 16 piece version for the whole family, choosing the spicy option means you'll likely want a glass of milk on hand (especially for the kids). But while we know that this poultry can bring the heat, it's a little less clear as to exactly what the chicken's marinade consists of -- the flavor is just listed as "spicy," after all. Plus, Popeyes has previously experimented with everything from TRUFF hot sauce partnerships to five savory flavors of chicken wings.

But as we made our way through the chain's menu to rank nine of its chicken items from worst to best, we discovered the source of heat in its spicy chicken: ghost pepper. One of the hottest peppers out there, this fiery red gem is pretty high up there on the Scoville scale, a measurement used to determine spice. It clocks in at about 1,042,000 Scoville heat units (SHU), making it hotter than a habanero at 350,000 SHU and definitely spicier than a jalapeño, which only reaches about 8,000 SHU. It's no surprise that ghost peppers are called "poison chili" in Assam, India, one of the regions where they're from.

Read more: 26 Best Toppings To Add To Your Chicken Sandwich

Ghost Peppers May Not Be Tolerable, But Popeyes' Spicy Chicken Is

basket of ghost peppers
basket of ghost peppers - Marti157900/Getty Images

Keep in mind, however, that biting into Popeyes' spicy chicken is a very different experience than placing an actual ghost pepper on your tongue. As anyone who's tried it knows, while the chicken is hot, it's not so fiery that the flavor of the marinade is drowned out. In fact, quite the opposite is true -- the chain's signature chicken absorbs the seasonings and the marinade for 12 hours at a minimum, meaning the spicy flavor is diluted with plenty of other ingredients. If you did manage to get past a ghost pepper's heat when eating one, however, you'd find that it does have mildly fruity and sweet notes.

While Popeyes may not explicitly advertise a ghost pepper marinade for its signature chicken, it did re-introduce its Ghost Pepper Wings in January 2023. They boast a ghost pepper spice blend, and according to a press release, "These wings balance the perfect level of kick, making them a more approachable wing option for those who enjoy a little bit of heat and a whole lot of flavor." And as opposed to Popeyes' signature hot flavor, which it rates four flames, ghost pepper comes in at only three. So while the chain may use the flavor in its poultry, it thankfully spares us the full brunt of the pepper's wrath.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.