Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

01 January, 2014

Quest for Fire



I enjoy spicy foods. I developed a taste for them back in the days when I cooked for a living. Our breakfast cook, Johnny, would occasionally bring in bottles of hot sauce and we always had a stash in one of the coolers. Someone somewhere would breed a new chili and Johnny would bring in the resulting hot sauce. During a slow time, we'd throw some chicken wings in the fryer and use them for our testing purposes. Hilarity always ensued.

There was the time that one of the dishwashers, a raunchy, fun-loving black woman from Alabama who kept trying to introduce me to the joys of dark meat, came over and saw the wings and a bottle of hot sauce. She grabbed one of the wings and applied a liberal dose of the sauce. Now, this stuff wasn't the the kind of sauce that would put you in the hospital but you were guaranteed an endorphin rush. We warned her that the bright red stuff wasn't Frank's RedHot but she brushed aside our admonitions. And she paid for it. The look on her face was priceless.

Another time Johnny came to work with a bottle of datil pepper sauce. None of us cooks had heard of it but we were game. A co-worker pulled the bottle out of the box and gave it a shake only to have the cap fly off and some of the sauce shoot into one of his eyes. I immediately dragged him over to the eye wash station. After what seemed like an hour of rinsing his poor eye, he looked like he'd just had a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Needless to say, he didn't get much work done the rest of that day.

Back in those days it seemed like most chilies were just creeping above the habanero in hotness. Yeah, you had sauces that could kill you but they were basically just tomato paste with pure capsaicin added. These days, however, there is a capsaicin arms race afoot. The New Yorker published a piece in November called "Fire-Eaters: The search for the hottest chili". It documents the endeavors of people who seek glory in entering the Guinness Book of World Records for having bred the hottest chili on the planet. According to the author, these people are "are mostly American, British, and Australian guys. (There is also a valiant Scandinavian contingent.)"

At the moment, there is no definitive claimant to the title of world’s hottest pepper. Lacking a central authority, the chili community finds itself embroiled in a three-way schism. In June of 2011, a group of Australian growers captured the Guinness record with the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T (1,463,700 SHU). Less than a year later, Bosland’s Chile Pepper Institute issued a press release: “When it comes to bringing the heat, there’s a new king of the hill.” Bosland claimed that a C.P.I. chili called the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion had exceeded two million Scoville units.

Then, in August of last year, Ed Currie, of the PuckerButt Pepper Company, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, unveiled a new contender. Currie announced, “The PuckerButt Pepper Company has raised the bar for hot pepper heat intensity by producing an amazing hot pepper, the Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, which surpasses the current world record holder, the Butch T Trinidad Scorpion.” The Carolina Reaper’s recommended uses, according to PuckerButt’s Web site, included hot sauces, salsa, and “settling old scores.” Steven Leckart wrote in Maxim that eating one was “like being face-fucked by Satan.”


2,000,000+ Scovilles?! The article details the obsession these guys have with chilies and breeding the hottest on the planet. They make for good subjects of a Werner Herzog movie. Now, I like a good burn every so often but chilies that hot are ridiculous. You can find videos on YouTube of people eating them and then proceeding to have their faces go red before vomiting.

In addition to the profiles of men who bicker over who has the hottest chili, I learned a bit about the history of the Scoville scale. I've known about it for a while but never knew who developed it or what exactly it measured. It was created by one Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Scoville was a pharmacist and he measured chili hotness by "how many drops of sugar water it would take to dilute the heat of a chili". Presumably it now measures parts per million of capsaicin or some such thing.

On a local note, are any of these mega-maxi-hot chilies or hot sauces made from them available in Madison? For a good burn here in town, do try the pickled habaneros at that Mexican restaurant that shares space with Pan Y Pan Bakery on Milwaukee Street. They grow and pickle the chilies on premises.

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|| Palmer, 9:30 AM

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