US hybrid Pepper X broke the record for hottest pepper in the world. It’s hotter than most pepper sprays police use to subdue criminals.
When mad capsicum scientist and hot pepper expert Ed Currie tried his latest creation, dubbed Pepper X, his entire body felt it.
“I was feeling the heat for three-and-a-half hours. Then the cramps came,” said Currie, one of only five people so far to eat an entire Pepper X.
“Those cramps are horrible. I was laid out flat on a marble wall for approximately an hour in the rain, groaning in pain.”
Currie, who hails from the US state of South Carolina, has been pushing the limits of nature for decades in search of the perfect pepper – one that would provide “immediate, brutal heat.”
He already held the world record for hottest pepper with his Carolina Reaper, a crossbreed between the La Soufriere pepper from Saint Vincent and a Naga pepper from Pakistan.
But Pepper X made the Carolina Reaper look like childsplay.
On 9 October, the new variety Currie developed was officially declared the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.
How hot is hot?
Heat in peppers is measured in Scoville Heat Units, or SHU. Zero is bland, like a bell pepper for example. A regular jalapeño pepper – popular in Mexican cuisine – registers about 5,000 units. A habanero, which was the hottest pepper 25 years ago, typically tops 100,000.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists the Carolina Reaper at a scorching 1.64 million units. But when Pepper X was measured, it came in at an average of 2.69 million units – almost double the previous record.
To get an idea of just how unbelievably hot that is, pepper spray – which is used by police officers to subdue unruly criminals – registers at 1.6 million units.
Bear spray – which is used to shock actual bears into submission – advertises at 2.2 million units.
The actual science behind hot peppers involves a chemical called capsaicin, which occurs naturally in peppers and is not dangerous unless pounds of it are consumed.
Even though the heat isn’t physically harmful, most people (and other mammals) have a psychological reaction to spiciness – their brains see capsaicin as a threat and send a strong burning signal to the body.
That burning sensation in humans can also release endorphins and dopamine. Currie, who threw himself entirely into growing peppers after overcoming drug and alcohol addictions, considers the kick from hot peppers to be a natural high.
He’s been sharing his peppers with medical researchers to see if they can help people who suffer chronic pain or discomfort.
The search for the hottest pepper continues
It took 10 years to get Pepper X from the first crossbreed experiment to the record, including five years of testing to prove it was a different plant with a different fruit, Currie says.
“We covered the genetics, we covered the chemistry, we covered the botany,” he said.
Pepper X is greenish-yellow and carries an earthy flavour once its heat is delivered, which is different from the sweetness of the red scorpion-tailed Carolina Reaper.
The new pepper is a crossbreed of a Carolina Reaper and what Currie mysteriously says is a “pepper that a friend of mine sent me from Michigan that was brutally hot.”
Despite Pepper X’s record-breaking hotness, Currie says he’s continuing to develop even hotter crossbreeds and varieties with different flavour profiles.
He has dozens of fields across York County in South Carolina, secret greenhouses where he works on peppers to prevent them from being stolen and a store in Fort Mill where he works on dozens of sauce ideas for his company PuckerButt, ranging from mild to blazing hot.
Currie believes people can benefit from the rush that comes after the burn of eating a hot pepper. But he warns enthusiasts not to jump the gun and reach too quickly for a Carolina Reaper or Pepper X.
“You build up a tolerance," Currie said, later hinting that more pepper heat may be bubbling up from the fields, labs and chillers that he won’t let fans, reporters or even the bankers helping his business expand see.
“Is (Pepper X) the pinnacle?” Currie said, a mischievous smile warming his face. “No, it’s not the pinnacle.”