Measuring in at a tongue-blistering 2,693,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), “Pepper X” has been awarded the title of the world’s hottest chili pepper. It dethrones the infamous Carolina Reaper chili, which averages at a comparatively mild 1.64 million SHU. Someone pass the milk.
Pepper X scooped the title as the new Guinness World Record holder this week after being unveiled on the YouTube show Hot Ones, in which celebrities are interviewed while devouring a gauntlet of hot sauce-soaked chicken wings.
It was grown by Ed Currie, legendary chili pepper breeder and founder of PuckerButt Pepper Company, who’s also the brain behind the Carolina Reaper. He explained how he developed the new chili pepper through 10 years of selective breeding, combining chilis with the spiciest qualities then patiently waiting for the hybrids to stabilize with predictable traits and consistent fruit.
There has been chatter about Pepper X being the hottest chili on Earth for a few years, but it’s only just been officially awarded the title.
“All this is a culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people. People said it couldn't be done. They called us liars and we proved to them that Pepper X is actually the hottest pepper in the world, officially from Guinness. All the time and effort that we put in at the farm to make sure this got stabilized and became the hottest pepper in the world is now validated,” Currie said on the Hot Ones show.
“I just can't tell you how excited I am right now. I really just want to run laps around the building,” he added.
Currie, two other chili enthusiasts, and the show’s hosts proceeded to eat a whole Pepper X each and the results were, well, as you might expect.
“That violent and ever-growing, um, thing that is somehow making my face tighter, like the skin of my face feels tighter,” an understandably incoherent Sean Evans said with a pained expression.
The active compound of chili peppers that gives them their oomph is capsaicin. Acting as a chemical irritant, certain plants evolved the ability to produce this compound to deter animals from eating them. However, humans have developed a taste for the compound, experiencing a rush of endorphins when consumed in the right quantities.
A common misconception is that most capsaicin is found in the seeds of a chili pepper, but it’s most abundant in the placental tissue, which holds the seeds. It’s also found in high concentrations along the thin film that lines the inside of the chili pepper.
The Scoville scale is essentially a measurement of capsaicin concentrations. To test a pepper’s spiciness, a solution of the pepper extract is diluted in sugar water and then tasted by a panel of tasters. Decreasing concentrations of the extract are given to the panel until a majority can no longer detect the heat in a dilution.
A pepper with 1,000 SHUs, for instance, means that its extract must be diluted 1,000 times before the heat is no longer perceived. For context, a bell pepper has zero SHU, while a jalapeño is around 3,000 to 8,000 SHU. Bear spray, which uses capsaicin and other capsaicinoids to deter bears, clocks in at around 2.2 million SHU, so Pepper X is technically hotter than bear spray.
Will Pepper X ever be beaten? It will take several years to breed, refine, and stabilize any would-be rival to the throne, but anything is possible.