There’s something deliciously dangerous about eating hot peppers – that initial crunch as you bite into them, the tiny sensations that start your tongue tingling and then the full force of heat that could take the paint off walls. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, you’ll need to be careful about picking which pepper to eat if you’re not used to hot foods which is when a SHU measurement can come in handy.
Yes, there is a scale that measures pungency and heat – it’s called the Scoville Heat Units [SHU] which measures the concentration of capsaicinoids; and it’s named after the pharmacist that in 1912 created it, Wilbur Scoville.
In essence, the SHU translates to the dilution required for the ‘burn’ to no longer be sensed – so a pepper may rate at 5,000 which means the oil from the pepper extract must be diluted 5,000 times to neutralise the heat.
So, knowing that, what is the SHU reading of the world’s hottest pepper you might ask? Well, that honour goes to the Carolina Reaper which comes in at 1,641,000 SHU – I think ‘reaper’ is the right choice of word! To put this in context – Jalapeno peppers rate at a mere 2,500 to 8,000 SHU making the Carolina Reaper 1.6 million times hotter than the most popular of all chillies.
The Carolina Reaper was created by Smokin’ Ed Currie of the PuckerButt Pepper Company and this is the pepper’s bio on their website:
The pepper is a beautiful bright red with a long stinger. Those who don't fear the Reaper are fools. It is Painfully Hot, with sweet, fruity undertones and hints of cinnamon and chocolate. It can be used to spice up your sauces, salsas or in combat.
Combat, we like that! Hotter than any self-defence pepper spray, the Carolina Reaper could indeed be a dangerous weapon.
There are many theories on why some people love hot peppers and others not, but one interesting posit is that the capsaicin compound causes your brain to think it’s being burned and your body’s automatic response to pain is to produce endorphins and dopamine – your natural pain-reliever and happy-hormone, that might help explain it for some.
So, if you fancy living dangerously this weekend, as some of us Cape Town meat wholesalers are known to do, you might want to give it a try – just be sure to keep ice, milk, honey and perhaps a fire extinguisher handy!