In Charlotte, North Carolina, a man named Ed Currie is on a quest. What gives meaning to his life is his attempt to produce the world’s hottest pepper.
Here’s how Ed Currie knew he was getting somewhere with his potentially record-breaking hot pepper:
“The first time we tried it, out of the six of us…four puked. So I knew I was on the right path, you know,” Currie says. . .
Currie tests different combinations of food, water, and mineral intake to see which one creates the hottest pepper. And he thinks he’s found it. Right now he calls the pepper HP22B. Guinness World Records officials are looking at the pepper to see if it is indeed the world’s hottest.
Currie works as a banker by day, but peppers are always on his mind. He even has security installed in the backyard.
“We’ve got all sorts of motion stuff. We’ve got dogs. We’ve got everything,” Currie says.
This is srs bzns!
A pepper’s heat is measured in Scoville units. The one Ed has to beat, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” from Australia, measures 1.4 million Scoville. Dr. Calloway says Ed’s Guinness pepper, on average, measures 1.5 million Scoville. For comparison, a regular jalapeño is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500-5,000 Scoville.
Here’s Ed’s contender, HP22B:
The stuff that makes peppers hot is the compound capsaicin, here from the Wikipedia entry:
It’s thought to have evolved in wild chili peppers as a deterrent to mammalian predation, which destroys the seeds (bird predation doesn’t do that since the birds pass the seeds, dispersing them, which is what the plant “wants”). Ed, of course, is simply increasing the content of capsaicin by artificial selection, demonstrating once again that nearly every trait in animals and plants has genetic variability.
According to Wikipedia, capsaicin binds to sense receptors that produce the burning sensation:
The burning and painful sensations associated with capsaicin result from its chemical interaction with sensory neurons. Capsaicin, as a member of the vanilloid family, binds to a receptor called the vanilloid receptor subtype 1 (VR1). First cloned in 1997, VR1 is an ion channel-type receptor. VR1, which can also be stimulated with heat and physical abrasion, permits cations to pass through the cell membrane and into the cell when activated. The resulting depolarization of the neuron stimulates it to signal the brain. By binding to the VR1 receptor, the capsaicin molecule produces the same sensation that excessive heat or abrasive damage would cause, explaining why the spiciness of capsaicin is described as a burning sensation.
The “heat” of peppers has traditionally been measured in “Scoville units,” a rather subjective procedure in which pepper extract is diluted in sugar water by various amounts, and then the dilution in which the heat can just be detected is its Scoville rating. So, for example, the hottest peppers in this table below can have their extract diluted five million times and still have the heat detectable. The garden variety jalapeño, in contrast, has a Scoville rating of only 3500-8000.
Now, however, science can do a much better job, measuring capsaicin via liquid chromatography. Still, pepper aficionados adhere to the Scoville scale.
The climax of this post is a video of Marshall Terry, a radio personality at WFAE in Charlotte, eating just a slice of Currie’s überpepper. WARNING: it has scenes of vomiting and general debility.