Plants have many ways of defending themselves from predators who want to eat them. Plants cannot run away, but they can fight back. Some plants have thorns, the ability to sting, and some produce chemicals that are poisonous. The pepper plant (Capsicum) produces a chemical called capsaicin in its fruit which is a colorless, odorless, oily chemical that reacts with sensory neurons which then cause a reaction to make our body think it is being burned. Most of the capsaicin produced by peppers is in the seeds. Pepper plants produce this chemical to defend against fungus and animals/bugs which would eat the fruit and destroy the seeds.
There are many people who seem to enjoy the burning sensation they get when eating hot chili peppers, and there are even festivals where people come from all over to try different sauces and to see who can eat the hottest pepper. There are many speculations as to why humans enjoy putting themselves through this pain. Some might say it is just pure stupidity, others say it is our desire for a thrill, similar to the feeling we get when riding a roller coaster. Others think it may be a desire for control of mind over body, as only humans can enjoy experiences that our bodies are programmed to avoid after we realize they are not a threat. Whatever the reason, there are so many people who enjoy the burn of a pepper, to some degree or another, that it has created an entire industry.
The heat in a pepper is measure by Scoville heat units (SHU), which is a method of measurement developed by the chemist Wilbur Scoville. According to the Scoville heat scale bell peppers measure at 0, jalapeno peppers at about 2,500, and habañero peppers at about 150,000. As of November 2013 the hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina reaper, measuring on the Scoville scale at 1,569,300 to 2,200,000. To get an idea just how hot this fiery fruit is, pepper spray sits on the Scoville scale at 2,000,000.
The Carolina Reaper is small with bumpy bright red flesh, and a scorpion tail on the end, and when eaten will set a fire in your mouth and bring tears to your eyes. This pepper from hell was created by Ed Currie by cross breeding other peppers in his greenhouse in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Ed Currie is a former banker who developed a love for hot foods and growing peppers. He eventually started the PuckerButt Pepper Company where he grows his peppers and sells products including hot sauces, salsas, plants, seeds, jellies, and snacks.
If you enjoy spicy food or want to show the world just how tough you are, see if you can get your hands on one of these peppers that may very well be comparable to eating the devils big toe.
If the heat becomes unbearable as you try a Carolina Reaper or any other super hot pepper, use dairy products such as milk or ice cream to suppress the heat.
Some growing tips for growing your own pepper.
Planting: All peppers prefer long warm growing seasons, so place your plants outside one or two weeks after the last frost. Ideal temperatures for growing peppers is approximately 70°F during the day and 60°F nights. Watch the temperatures, and cover your plants or bring them inside if temperatures get below 50°F. Don’t forget to uncover your plants in sunny weather above 80°F to prevent blossoms from dropping and heat damage. You can plant seeds in a greenhouse to get a head start on the season, but keep in mind that peppers do not transplant well, the smaller your transplant the better they will establish.
Light: Full sun
Soil: Peppers like well drained fertile soil with a pH around 6.5
Water: Be careful not to over water your pepper plants or the roots will rot. It is also important not to let your plants wilt or they will abort their fruit and you will miss out on those fiery balls of goodness.
Harvesting and handling: It may be hard, but waiting till fruit ripens on the vine and turns red, orange, yellow, or whatever other color, will result in the best tasting peppers. Use pruning shears or a knife to harvest peppers leaving a short stem attached. Harvesting by hand can cause entire branches to break off and you may damage your plants. Rinse off your peppers and eat them fresh or store them in the fridge for later use. Be careful when handling hot peppers as the capsaicin will cause sever discomfort if it gets in your eyes or nose. If your hands start burning when handling peppers this means that capsaicin has penetrated your skin or lodged under your fingernails. Dipping your hands into a 5-to-1 solution of water and bleach turns capsaicin into a salt that you can wash off easily.
Ed Currie with his famous Carolina Reaper peppers
To buy some Carolina Reaper seeds to try in your own garden, here is the link to the PuckerButt Pepper Company. http://store.puckerbuttpeppercompany.com/