Magazine article Risk Management

Feeling the Heat

Magazine article Risk Management

Feeling the Heat

Article excerpt

I've always had a thing for spicy food. I think it comes from my family, which used jalapeno peppers at the dinner table like some people use salt or ketchup and has laughed for years about the time my younger brother cried after eating a pepper that was too hot. Sure, he was probably only eight at the time, but that was no excuse. He's in his thirties now, but rarely does a family gathering go by without that story coming up in between discussions about whose home-grown peppers are the hottest this year. We love our peppers. And making fun of my brother. But mainly peppers.

Over the last few years, however, it's become obvious that we're amateurs when it comes to hot peppers. Jalapenos are fine, but to real chili pepper farmers, they're more like dessert toppings when compared to the so-called "superhots" at the other end of the heat spectrum.

To give you an idea of what we're dealing with, the heat of chili peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU), named after Wilber Scoville, a pharmacist who came up with the test method more than a century ago. Bell peppers measure zero on the scale, while jalapenos come in at around 5,000. Habaneros and Scotch bonnet peppers used to be some of the hottest around, ranging from 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. Until 2007, the Guinness Book of World Records considered the Red Savina habanero, which topped out at about 580,000 SHU, the hottest pepper in the world.

Things got interesting when the bhut jolokia pepper, or ghost pepper, was discovered in India. It blew away the previous record with readings of over one million SHU. Within only a few years, the crown changed hands a number of times as growers produced peppers exceeding one million SHU with formidable names like the Infinity chili or the Naga Viper.

Today, the title of hottest pepper is under dispute. Guinness says it's the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper at 1.4 million SHU, while the Chili Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University points to the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which it says has topped out at more than two million SHU. Meanwhile, South Carolina grower Ed Currie claims his Carolina Reaper pepper is even hotter. It's worth noting that levels this high are similar to those of a lower-end pepper spray.

The reason for this hot pepper arms race is simple: spicy foods are big business. …

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