High Risk Activities: Eating Chili Peppers
Some people do crazy things in seek of their next thrill. Last time we covered Uber drivers and the stories were pretty crazy. This time around we take a look at a different High Risk Activity: Eating Chili Peppers.
Sounds mundane enough, right? Actually, chili aficionados see these little peppers to be a challenge, seeking out the hottest peppers their taste buds can handle, finding them to be a spicy, mouth-burning thrill ride with sweat-inducing effects. Some even experience euphoric effects.
Here is a Chili Eating Contest
A psychologist named Paul Rozin did a paper on chili eaters, and believes that the habit is an example of a "constrained risk." Similar to activities like riding a roller coaster, or taking very hot baths (his example), in which extreme sensations like pain and fear are found enjoyable because the risk takers can experience extreme feelings, but know that the sensations will not actually produce any harm.
History of Chili Peppers
Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BCE. The most recent research shows that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico,
Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers"... and Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician on Columbus' second voyage to the West Indies in 1493, brought the first chili peppers to Spain and first wrote about their medicinal effects in 1494.
Upon their introduction into Europe, chilies were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. Christian monks experimented with the culinary potential of chili and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.
Today, India is the world's biggest producer, consumer, and exporter of chili peppers. Countries like Mexico, Thailand, and Sri Lanka are catching up though. A study by the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey collected data on more than 16,000 Americans for up to 23 years, and they found that consumers of hot red chili peppers tended to be "younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married" who tend "to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats . . . had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education'. Sounds like a bunch of risk takers to me.
The Science of Peppers
Measuring the "heat" of a chili pepper is a science. Peppers are measured on something called the Scoville scale, which measures the "heat" by diluting a sample amount of chili extract with sugar syrup to the point that the heat becomes undetectable to a panel of taste testing guinea pigs. The more it has to be diluted to be undetectable, the higher the rating it receives. The ranking system is measuring how much capsaicin is found in a pepper. Capsaicin is the active ingredient that registers on our taste buds as spicy, and has many other uses such as topical ointments and sports cremes (such as dermal patches to relieve pain), and even nasal sprays.
So that science stuff is cool and all, but where does the thrill factor come from? When chili peppers are consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat. These receptors are responsible for sensing heat, and once they are activated a message is sent to the brain that you have eaten something hot. Your brain responds to this burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and releasing endorphins. To me that's just masochism, but hey whatever floats your boat. Some peppers do offer nutritional value such as large amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin B6 - but I wouldn't recommended them as a replacement for your multivitamin.
If your looking to take up chili pepper eating as a past time, its important to start slow. One problem with chili peppers is that a lot of them look very similar and are poorly labeled in super markets. Without knowing what to look for, it's easy to bite off more than you can chew. Over the last few years, there has been an intense rivalry to create the world's hottest pepper, and new crosses and breeds continue to emerge as growers seek the title of worlds hottest.
The Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University is an excellent source of knowledge for chili aficionados. They have noted five characteristics that determine a chile pepper’s heat profile:
How fast does the heat come on? Asian types of chile peppers produce instantaneous heat, while habaneros are known for a long delay.
How long does the heat linger? Asian varietals tend to punch you in the mouth and diminish, while habaneros linger, the heat creeping up over several minutes. The lingering makes them taste “hotter,” even if they aren’t higher in parts-per-million of capsaicinoids.
Is the heat sharp or flat? Peppers can produce a sharp pins-and-needles feeling or produce the sensation that someone has spread heat inside your mouth with a paintbrush.
Where in the mouth do you sense the heat? Habaneros burn the back of the throat, while New Mexican varietals scorch the mid-palate.
What is the amount of the actual heat? This is what is measured by the HPLC test.
Worlds Hottest Peppers
In 2007, Guinness World Records crowned the Ghost pepper as world's hottest chili pepper. The Ghost is 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce and rated at more than 1 million Scoville heat units. The crown didn't last long as the Infinity chili took the title in 2011, followed by the Naga Viper, the Trinidad moruga scorpion in 2012, and the Carolina Reaper in 2013.
The Carolina Reaper is currently the official Worlds Hottest Pepper as ranked by Guinness Records. A science experiment bred for heat with a unique stinger tail unlike any other pepper, it averages over 1.5 SHU and can reach 2.2 Million SHU. It was bred by crossing a Pakistani Naga and a Red Habanero. Fans report it has an excellent flavor.
Here are a couple attempts to eat the Carolina Reaper:
Comment below and tell us: Have you tried the Ghost Pepper or dared to taste the Carolina Reaper?