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World's hottest pepper is grown in South Carolina

FORT MILL, S.C. (AP) - 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, ending a more than four-year drive to prove no one grows a more scorching chili. The heat of Currie's peppers was certified by students at Winthrop University who test food as part of their undergraduate classes.

But whether Currie's peppers are truly the world's hottest is a question that one scientist said can never be known. The heat of a pepper depends not just on the plant's genetics, but also where it is grown, said Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. And the heat of a pepper is more about being macho than seasoning.

"You have to think of chili heat like salt. A little bit improves the flavor, but a lot ruins it," Bosland said.

Some ask Currie if the record should be given to the single hottest pepper tested instead of the mean taken over a whole batch. After all, Usain Bolt isn't considered the world's fastest man because of his average time over several races.

But Currie shakes off those questions.

"What's the sense in calling something a record if it can't be replicated? People want to be able to say they ate the world's hottest pepper," Currie said.

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.

Pharmacist Wilbur Scoville devised the scale 100 years ago, taking a solution of sugar and water to dilute an extract made from the pepper. A scientist would then taste the solution and dilute it again and against until the heat was no longer detected. So the rating depended on a scientist's tongue, a technique that Calloway is glad is no longer necessary.

"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 peppers aren't just about heat. He aims for sweetness, too. He makes sauces and mustards with names like "Voodoo Prince Death Mamba," ''Edible Lava" and "I Dare You Stupit" with a goal to enhance the flavor of food.

And the hot pepper market is expanding. In less than five years, the amount of hot peppers eaten by Americans has increased 8 percent, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

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.

Barrus said Currie's news has other growers sending him peppers that seem hotter than the Carolina Reaper on his tongue, although they will await scientific testing.

That's fine with Currie. He knew the record would be challenged quickly and has sent off what he thinks are even hotter batches to the students at Winthrop University to test.

"Nobody is going to grow hotter peppers than Ed Currie," he said.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

Join the discussion

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Lynette Clarke December 27 2013 at 3:24 PM

I recently read that the wold's hottest pepper is the moruga scorpion pepper which is native to Moruga, Trinidad, West Indies

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1 reply
s2bpeaceh1 Lynette Clarke December 27 2013 at 4:37 PM

You are right. Trinidad Scorpion it is called. He must have gotten some its seeds and claiming them to be his own pepper production

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buddyboygabe December 27 2013 at 9:21 PM

right after handling of these hot pepper samples, went in to take a leak, (holy smoke!!!) B-U-R-N my "tool" for an hours!!!! :-o

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SMANOR8 December 27 2013 at 1:49 PM

The Ghost pepper WAS the hottest on record. I have not heard anything about the "Trinidad Maruga Scorpion". When did they appear on the radar?

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simmersck December 27 2013 at 3:17 PM

I grow jolokai peppers in L.A. they are hard to grow from seed but when your lucky enough to succeed they are worth their weight in gold. I eat them by biting a small piece of pepper and chasing it with food. The flavor is incredible. Sadly most people who use them never actually taste its amazing flavor by only cooking with it to add heat.

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soyboricuadepr December 27 2013 at 4:30 PM

Boy, I sure would hate to go to this "UNSUAL" place!

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Ernie December 27 2013 at 1:36 PM

Good for you, I would love to try some!

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adriankip December 27 2013 at 4:35 PM

I'm starting to break a sweat reading this. Hehe.

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miket1947 December 27 2013 at 6:21 PM

Awesome! I can't wait. Up here in New England, people think a jalapeño is too hot. I have eaten ghost peppers (2) and want to try this one? We do have a respectable sauce made in Dedham, MA, by the name of "Mad Dog: The Inferno."

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Gurrr ... December 27 2013 at 7:47 PM

i like my home grown habineros just fine ...tyvm )

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1 reply
graphik146 Gurrr ... December 27 2013 at 8:20 PM

Those are great too! How about Rocoto Peppers from Central America!!!! HOTTTTTT!

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booboodog December 27 2013 at 7:16 PM

I always poke holes in one of those bad boys & put it in my spanish rice, can't beat the flavors it adds :-)

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