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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

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ironman December 29 2013 at 6:29 AM

The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is rated at 1.2 million to 2 million, roughly a half million units more than this pepper,

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mtyler4345 December 28 2013 at 9:31 PM

You can order Carolina Reaper peeper seeds or virtually any other hot chile pepper seed variety from Tyler Farms in Southern California. They also list the Scoville scale heat index so you can compare how hot each pepper is relative to another. Check out their website:


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DAVE December 28 2013 at 10:23 AM

and I thought ghost peppers were the hottest

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1 reply to DAVE's comment
ironman December 29 2013 at 6:31 AM

855,000–1,050,000 Naga Jolokia (Bhut Jolokia - 'Ghost' peppers)

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bluecasket December 28 2013 at 5:56 AM

I got a 2 oz bottle of the Reaper puree for Christmas, and I love it. I highly recommend it to anyone who currently enjoys strong habanero sauces and is looking for something new to push their limits. The flavor is about the same, but overall more salty and less bitter than the hab, and the heat is amazing.

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1 reply to bluecasket's comment
buddyboygabe December 28 2013 at 9:36 PM

heat is amazing??? yea, next day, other ends on FIRE! :-(

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begafish December 28 2013 at 4:56 AM

I think they are all forms of the original habanero pepper, they all look very similar, I love them all, I have gottem where I can eat the ghost pepper and I know they are right there with them all.....hot..

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lindasmithsart December 28 2013 at 3:24 AM

I am so sorry ,but I will never knowingly eat a pepper from a company called "pucker butt" :)

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1 reply to lindasmithsart's comment
buddyboygabe December 28 2013 at 9:37 PM

not even Prep-H won't help! :-)

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bfurlong671 December 28 2013 at 3:08 AM

Pepper's hot yay.

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patricia December 28 2013 at 2:53 AM

I am from Charleston, South Carolina. Those Peppres are sold in a sauce form at the old Slave market. My brother buy them to take back to Korea he has to sign a paper, before purchasing them. It is that hot and a liability risk. .

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jar6082992 December 28 2013 at 1:33 AM

hmmm, it seems like someone is trying to capitalize on the Moruga scorpion pepper that is grown in Trinidad. The pepper looks the same as the moruga scorpion, down to the bumpiness and tail. As a person who have grown the bhut jokia and the moruga scorpion, both are rated over 1 million scoville with the moruga scorpion rated close to 2 million scoville.

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2 replies to jar6082992's comment
jjerrbberr02 December 28 2013 at 2:12 AM

Not really. It looks more like a 7 Pot Primo than a Moruga.

The bumpiness is present in Bhuts, 7 Pots, and Scorpions. It's not solely a characteristic of a Moruga. However, the tails are quite a bit different.

Not to mention it rate hotter across the board than a Moruga. Can't fake that.

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ironman December 29 2013 at 6:33 AM

And the Scorpion is rated higher !
The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is rated at 1.2 million to 2 million

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bobpremo December 28 2013 at 1:28 AM

An Acquaintance Bill Eisele (also a parachutist) had and offered one of these. I assume Scoville is somewhere near the town of Chernobyl. They are not for me but, I appreciate the pursuit of such excellence. Best of luck to all the HOT peppers out there.

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