The Caribbean is home to one of the world’s hottest peppers, Trinidad’s Moruga Scorpion. Just one pepper can hold the same heat as a shot glass full of pepper spray!
My pepper education started on a flight between Caracas, Venezuela and Bridgetown, Barabados. At the back of the Caribbean Airlines inflight magazine I found an interesting snippet of information: “Trinidad’s Moruga Scorpion Pepper has been declared the hottest in the world by the Guinness Book of Records”.
As fate would have it I was travelling through Trinidad, not once but twice. That meant plenty of time to track down some ‘Scorpion’ sauce and to research the story behind the world’s ‘hottest pepper’.
I am completely clueless when it comes to peppers. In my world there are only two types - mild and hot, and I had poor tolerance to ‘hot’.
The hottest pepper that I have tried was a jalapeno and this experience rendered my mouth numb, neutralised my taste buds and robbed me of the pleasure usually associated with eating. The digestive ‘aftermath’ was similarly joyless!
The fresh peppers (more often called ‘chillies’ in Australia) at my local supermarket were plump and glossy but hardly the breakers of world records. The packaging had its own ‘Chilli Heat Scale’, from the ‘mild’ green cayenne pepper to the ‘hot’ habanero.
The more I researched the more I learned. There were peppers hotter than habaneros! Much, much hotter!
This heat had its own official measuring scale. The Scoville scale (SHU) measures the spicy heat produced by capsaicin (the chemical compound that activates heat receptors in the nerve endings and the primary ingredient in ‘capsicum spray’). The higher the SHU number the hotter the pepper. Those peppers at the highest end of the heat scale were in a league of their own.
On 13 February, 2012 the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion was crowned the hottest chilli in the world. When tested, individual peppers registered more than 2 million Scoville heat units (SHU) or the equivalent heat of roughly 400 jalapenos. For those who can get past the intense heat, it is also reported to have a ‘tender fruit-like flavour’ or ‘sweet-hot combination’.
So all of this research was intriguing but how could I understand just how hot the Trinidad Scorpion was without actually eating it?
"To say the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is hot would be like saying the surface of the sun is hot. It’s true, but you’d be really underselling it. This is a scorching hot pepper, a chili so hot people have to wear latex suits and gloves just to work with it without (many) side effects" - www.pepperscale.com
"At a scorching 2,009,231 Scovilles (peak), the Moruga Scorpion will wreak your stomach, burn your intestines and still be smoking on the way out" - www.crazyhotseeds.com
" Used unwisely you will get the smack in the face insanely heat searing, sweat inducing, tear generating power of the legendary superhot chili, your face will turn red, the sweat starts to roll, your heart rate will increase, endorphins will be released and a fiery sensation will spread across your tongue and down your throat. You will relish the sweaty addictive pleasure of this scorching chili" - www.firehousechilli.com
And then there's YouTube!
Could these peppers be dangerous? Well, taken to the extreme they could prove fatal, but it would take a lot of peppers. Live Science quoted that the lethal dosage of capsaicin has been calculated at 1.2kg (or 2.7 pounds). This amount of capsaicin would cause enough stomach and intestinal inflammation to kill a 68kg (150 pound) person.
Fortunately there is an antidote and it is widely available. Dairy products contain casein, a protein that neutralises capsaicin.
Curiously these fiery peppers are not discovered in nature but developed by ambitious growers. One writer likened the competitive spirit amongst the world’s spice growers as an ‘arms race, competing to produce the most incapacitatingly hot chillies’.
Which explains why on 7 August, 2014 the title of the World's Hottest Pepper passed on to the Carolina Reaper. A pepper developed at Fort Mill, South Carolina by the colourfully named PuckerButt Pepper Company (and there is healthy competition to develop a pepper that eclipses even this!)
I did pick up a few bottles of Trinidad Scorpion sauce to take home. The grateful recipient gave me the following (edited) feedback:
"Well the scorpion sauce was first used after a few too many beers, I flippantly splashed it over the home made pizza.... I knew when I took my first bite I was in trouble, as the beads of sweat built up under my eyes.... I realised I was in deep s**t.... it was way too hot I used way too much and drank the next weeks' milk supply...."
Hmmm sounds delicious but I'll pass. And I guess that's the real challenge: developing a sauce with flavour that you can actually taste through the burn.
So as countless pepper-heads attest, and I'll take their word for it, it doesn't matter who holds the current record for the hottest chilli in the world, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion still packs quite a fiery sting!