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March 13, 2012

Red hot chile peppers — Episode 2: Hotter than hot

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Yesterday's Episode 1 post, prepared on Sunday, was part of a magical synchronicity: in Monday's USA Today story by Monika Joshi about the New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute, I learned that they've finally settled the seemingly never-ending argument about exactly which pepper is the world's hottest.

Excerpts from the USA Today piece follow.

Located in Las Cruces, the Chile Pepper Institute is dedicated to everything chile pepper. It conducts research on disease resistance, higher yield and better flavor of the crop. It also fields hundreds of questions a week from growers, producers, researchers and home gardeners.

In 2007, the institute declared the Bhut Jolokia the world's hottest pepper, and Guinness World Records certified it. Upon hearing the news, a few others claimed there was an even hotter chile, prompting many in the spice industry to ask the institute to settle the dispute. 

"I received at least 500 e-mails about this alone," says institute director Paul Bosland, a renowned pepper expert and professor at New Mexico State.

In February, the institute proclaimed the Moruga Scorpion [below]

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the hottest chile pepper in the world, and already, the title has proven a draw for chile enthusiasts and the spice industry. Hard has created a salsa and hot sauce using the pepper, and the institute has sold out of seeds.

For the study, Bosland and his team planted several super-hot varieties of chile peppers, including the Moruga Scorpion and Scorpion, native to Trinidad; the 7 Pot and the Chocolate 7 Pot, hailing from Tobago; and the Bhut Jolokia, found in Assam, India. Ground-up samples of each variety were run through a high-performance liquid chromatography machine that counted capsaicinoids, the heat-causing chemical compound unique to chile peppers. A mathematical formula was then used to generate a number in Scoville heat units (SHU), which translates to heat intensity.

The Moruga Scorpion rated up to 2 million SHU, unseating Bhut Jolokia, which can be as hot as 1.58 million SHU.

During handling, researchers wore gas masks, goggles, full-body Tyvek suits and two layers of latex gloves. Still, the Moruga Scorpion's heat seeped through to their hands, says graduate student Gregory Reeves, who was a part of the study.

For most chile lovers, including Bosland, a small sampling of the Moruga Scorpion was all they needed.

[John] Hard [owner of CaJohns Fiery Foods] says he has a good tolerance for spice, but even he can get through only seven or eight chips with his Moruga-based salsa before calling it quits. The heat builds after the initial bite, resulting in an all-over-the-mouth-and-throat burn that lasts at least eight minutes, he says.

"We have people saying, 'Well, I like hot,' but they're talking about Frank's RedHot hot sauce," Hard says. "This is a thousand times hotter from a Scoville rating standpoint."

When the institute declared Bhut Jolokia the hottest pepper, Hard came out with the Holy Jolokia hot sauce, which he says is the best-selling product in his line of more than 100 varieties

But there is more to the Moruga Scorpion than just its excruciating heat, according to those who have tried it. It has a fruitlike flavor, which makes it a unique sweet-hot combination.

March 13, 2012 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Did you hear the one about the guy who kept hitting his thumb with a hammer?
A passerby asked, "Why are you doing that, it must hurt!"
The hammer-wielder replied, "Yes. It hurts. But, it feels so good when I stop!"

As a person who does enjoy chile and has 60g of Bhut Jolokia in the pantry, I can say that the 60g will last me a good two years. A little goes a long way and it is more than mere heat - the chile is toasted along with other dry spices in the process of making a traditional masala (yes, I wear goggles and have the exhaust fan on when I do this). I find that a touch of Bhut Jolokia really makes Tandoori Chicken stand up and cheer.

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Mar 14, 2012 3:43:58 PM

You ask, I answer: it's how we do it here. But I digress.

I can't speak with any authority at all about the pain-deadening properties of capsaicin in terms of mechanism of action/Substance P. But there's no doubt in my mind that the hotter the pepper, the more the pain relief.

The brain can only process so much information at a time. Flooding the zone, if I may use a metaphor, overwhelms the guardians at the incoming sensory information gate and scrambles processing to the point that pain perceived from an injury or incision is put on the shelf, behind the burn of the pepper.

Having said that, you could smash your finger with a hammer and get the same benefit as from hot peppers in terms of decreased perception of pain from a preexisting injury: any massive input will do.

Posted by: bookofjoe | Mar 13, 2012 7:38:10 PM

OK BOJ, ('World's most popular blogging anesthesiologist) What about pain deadening powers of capsaicin eliminating substance p in the grey matter, asking whether or not the hotter the pepper the more pain relief?

Posted by: Joski | Mar 13, 2012 6:31:32 PM

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