Some like it hot
World’s hottest pepper is grown in South Carolina
FORT MILL, S.C. — Ed Currie holds one of his world-record Carolina Reaper peppers by the stem, which looks like the tail of a scorpion.
On the other end is the bumpy, oily, fire-engine red fruit with a punch of heat nearly as potent as most pepper sprays used by police. It’s hot enough to leave even the most seasoned spicy food aficionado crimson-faced, flushed with sweat, trying not to lose his lunch.
Last month, The Guinness Book of World Records decided Currie’s peppers were the hottest on Earth. The heat of Currie’s peppers was certified by students at Winthrop University who test food as part of their undergraduate classes.
The record is for the hottest batch of Currie’s peppers that was tested, code name HP22B for “Higher Power, Pot No. 22, Plant B.” Currie said he has peppers from other pots and other plants that have comparable heat.
The science of hot peppers centers around chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. The higher concentration the hotter the pepper, said Cliff Calloway, the Winthrop University professor whose students tested Currie’s peppers.
The heat of a pepper is measured in Scoville Heat Units. Zero is bland, and a regular jalapeno pepper registers around 5,000 on the Scoville scale. Currie’s world record batch of Carolina Reapers comes in at 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units, with an individual pepper measured at 2.2 million. Pepper spray weighs in at about 2 million Scoville Units.
“I haven’t tried Ed’s peppers. I am afraid to,” Calloway said. “I bite into a jalapeno — that’s too hot for me.”
Now, scientists separate the capsaicinoids from the rest of the peppers and use liquid chromatography to detect the exact amount of the compounds. A formula then converts the readings into Scoville’s old scale.
The world record is nice, but it’s just part of Currie’s grand plan. He’s been interested in peppers all his life, the hotter the better. Ever since he got the taste of a sweet hot pepper from the Caribbean a decade ago, he has been determined to breed the hottest pepper he can. He is also determined to build his company, PuckerButt Pepper Company, into something that will let the 50-year-old entrepreneur retire before his young kids grow up.
The peppers started as a hobby, grown in his Rock Hill backyard. The business now spreads across a number of backyards and a couple dozen acres in Chester County. As his business grew, Currie kept his job at a bank because he promised his wife, whom he wooed a decade ago by making her a fresh batch of salsa, he wouldn’t leave the lucrative position until they were out of debt. She released him from that vow in February. Currie has about a dozen employees. Even with the publicity of the world record, he still gets nervous about making payroll. He said the attention has helped him move closer to the goal of making PuckerButt self-sustaining.
Currie’s world record has created quite a stir in the world of chiliheads, said Ted Barrus, a blogger from Astoria, Ore., who has developed a following among hot pepper fans by videotaping himself eating the hottest peppers in the world and posting the videos on YouTube under the name Ted The Fire Breathing Idiot.
Barrus said Currie’s world record is just the latest event in a series of pepper growers to top one another with hotter and hotter peppers.
“That’s the biggest bragging rights there are. It is very, very competitive,” he said.
The reason people love super-hot peppers isn’t much different than any other thrill seekers. Barrus talks lovingly about trying the Carolina Reaper, even though the peppers usually send him into spasms of hiccups and vomiting.
“You only live once. This is safer than jumping out of an airplane,” he said.