Pepper X - © 2023 AP

Sunday Musings: Do We Need A New Hottest Chili Pepper?

A new contender has risen to the top of the ‘World’s Hottest Chili Pepper’ list in the Guinness Book of World Records. My question is, “Do we really NEED a hotter pepper?” And my answer is an unequivocal “NO!” But pepper breeder Ed Currie disagrees…

Pepper X and Curry - © 2023 Jeffrey Collins-APEd Curry and his Guinness World Record certificate for Pepper X…

Currie was responsible for one of the first ‘man-made’ super-hot peppers, the Caroina Reaper. Prior to that, the hottest known pepper was the naturally occurring Naga Bhut Jolokia, native to Southeast Asia. It’s nickname is ‘Ghost Pepper’ in recognition of the fact that too much of it can kill you.

A human-bred version of the Ghost Pepper was announced a year or two back: The Naga Viper. Even hotter than the Carolina Reaper. Not useful to humans except as a curiosity – unless you consider it’s potential for weaponization as an even stronger pepper spray.

Now, Currie has slapped back with a variety he has simply named ‘Pepper X’. As if it’s the ultimate hot pepper. And it might just be.

A pepper heat tutorial

You’ve probably heard of the Scoville Scale. It’s the official measure of a chili pepper’s ‘heat’. For comparison, a common Jalapeño has an average Scoville reading of about 5,000. The Habañero chili registers around 100,000. It held the ‘World’s Hottest’ record 25 years ago.

Flash forward to today. The Carolina Reaper, which vaulted Currie to international notoriety, came in at about 1.64 million Scoville Units. Pepper X averages around 2.69 million Scovilles.

Police pepper spray clocks in at an average of 1.6 million units. Commercial bear spray comes in at about 2.2 million.

Got it?

Currie tells his tale

Ed Currie says he intended to breed a super-hot pepper that folks could eat when he developed the Reaper. It reportedly has a hot-sweet flavour profile. But he describes Pepper X as blasting out, “immediate, brutal heat.”

Ed himself has been brave enough to taste his new pepper. But only 4 other folks have followed suit. Ed doesn’t say what happened to them. But he told the Associated Press his own experience was harrowing.

“I was feeling the heat for three-and-a-half hours. Then the cramps came,” Currie recalled. “Those cramps are horrible. I was laid out flat on a marble wall for approximately an hour in the rain, groaning in pain.”

But there’s no mention of him needing first aid, much less going to the hospital. I wonder…

Patience is a pepper breeder’s virtue

According to Currie, it took him 10 years to perfect Pepper X. It’s clearly a descendant of the Carolina Reaper, featuring the same general size and shape. But instead of the fiery red colour of the Reaper, X sports burnished yellow skin with light green highlights. If you were unaware that it’s so blazing hot, you might easily be deceived by its appearance, and think it was mild.

Why did Currie start breeding hot peppers in the first place? He says it was to aid him in recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. He compares the heat kick from chili peppers to the kick he used to get from drugs and booze. No comment on whether it’s as addictive or not. Some say it is. But that’s for another post on another day…

A humanitarian?

Curry styles himself a humanitarian. Of sorts. First off, he has – up to now – not enforced the patents on his hot peppers. He’s let hundreds of thousands of folks grow them royalty-free, and use them in products promoted using the Carolina Reaper pedigree. He’s offered his peppers to the medical community in hopes researchers will find cures or treatments for diseases in them.

But now, he says, it’s time to cash in: “Everybody else made their money off the Reaper. It’s time for us to reap the benefits of the hard work I do.”

Accordingly, Currie is retreating to secret greenhouses and labs to carry on his work. We assume he’ll be trying to breed an even hotter pepper. And from here on in, outsiders have to pay to play.

The big question

With the recent death of a 14-year-old Mass. high school student from the so-called Paqui snacks ‘One Chip Challenge’, the world has turned a jaded eye on hot pepper challenges. Folks are asking if hot pepper challenges should be banned. There’s been no clear declaration, one way or the other.

But given that hot chilis have literally achieved ‘deadly’ status, we should be talking about the issue. And we should be asking whether the world really needs even hotter peppers.

Maybe we should also petition the Guinness Book of World Records to retire its ‘Word’s Hottest Pepper’ category in the interest of denying would-be challengers the cachet of winning the ‘honour’.

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.