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Pepper X: The latest way to set your mouth on fire

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By Don Worthington

It is the food equivalent of eating a firecracker. 

First there is an explosion of taste. Then your eyes water, your throat closes, your nose runs, and your ears ring. 

For some, the endomorphins kick in and it is, they say, an incredible natural high.

For others, pain and cramps follow, bringing you to your knees. Some end up lying on the ground. 

The food is the world’s hottest chili pepper – grow by the thousands in South Carolina. 

These gnarly red pepper pods – about the size of a cherry bomb firework – are called the Carolina Reaper. They are officially the world’s hottest chili pepper, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Guinness first recognized Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper – its official name – as the hottest in 2013. In April, Guinness again honored the Carolina Reaper, noting the pepper had gotten even hotter over time. 

The Carolina Reaper and Puckerbutt are the creations of a recovering addict, Ed Currie of Rock Hill. He said his quest for the world’s hottest pepper stems from his addictions. 

“I’m not satisfied with just the ‘heat’ of the pepper. I have to have the endomorphin rush,” Currie said. 

Currie’s quest for hot peppers began about 15 years ago when he started making hot sauces, selling them on street corners at town fairs and at a Rock Hill flea market. He made his peach mango sauce to woo a woman he was interested in. They married, and he and Linda now have two children, Katie and Eddie.

It was not long before he traded his career as a banker to become a self-trained botanist. 

He started “crossing” various peppers.

He crossed a La Soufriere pepper from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and a Naga pepper from Pakistan. There were nine plants from this combination. The result was red pepper that looked nasty and gnarly – and it was hot.

The hottest was HP22B, which stands for High Power, pot number 22, plant B. 

HP22B was the start of his pepper empire. 

HP22B, now the Carolina Reaper, on average, has a Scoville heat unit rating of 1.6 million. Jalapeno peppers have a Scoville rating of 2,500 to 8,000. The world’s previous hottest chili pepper, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T,” has a Scoville rating of 1 to 1.4 million.

It is the pepper’s capsaicin that makes it hot. Even the smallest amount of capsaicin in an open cut can be extremely painful. Workers used gloves when harvesting and handling the Carolina Reaper.

The Carolina Reaper is not the hottest pepper Currie is growing. 

Pepper X has a Scoville heat unit rating of 3.2 million. 

Currie and a friend are the only people who have tried to eat a whole Pepper X. Others have taste-tested slivers of it. 

Taste-tester Justin Steadman said Pepper X “burned my mouth, made my ears ring, and I had cramps. It was brutal.”

Currie said Pepper X brought him to his knees. “Eating a whole one was the stupidest thing I’ve done,” he said. 

Still, he continued, “peppers don’t harm you, it’s the chain reaction. People like super-hot stuff. They will get use to it.” 

Pepper X is grown in a “secret” S.C. location. To keep the secret, those who go to the farm are not allowed to bring their cell phones, Currie said. 

Pepper X is not only hot; it has a distinctive color. It has a mustard-colored shell. The other HP peppers are red, brown, yellow, peach and white. 

An application to Guinness for another record-setting pepper is in the works, Currie said. 

For now, there are two ways to sample Pepper X. 

Puckerbutt has teamed with Blazing Foods of Charlotte to make the “Death Nut Challenge.” 

The challenge is five peanuts infused with mash from the world’s hottest peppers. 

The Death Nut is a peanut with Carolina Reaper powder and Pepper X mash. 

The Hot Ones online web series has a challenge with chicken wings dipped in various hot sauces. The final one is the “Last Dab,” which has the Pepper X mash. 

For local food thrill seekers, Carolina Reaper products are a short drive away in Fort Mill at the Puckerbutt Pepper Co., 235 Main St. 

The store has the Death Nut challenge. Last Dab must be ordered online from various sites. If you are looking for milder alternatives, Puckerbutt makes a variety of sauces that can be sampled at the store.