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World's hottest chile pepper: The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion!

February 16, 2012 | 11:56 am
Pepper

This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion sounds like a lethal beast, and in many ways, it is.

It's just been crowned the hottest chile pepper on the planet, after testing this week by experts at New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute in Las Cruces.

The pepper, which comes from the central south coast of Trinidad, is certifiably potent: Its mean score on the Scoville scale used to grade peppers topped more than 1.2 million heat units, the testing showed. By comparison, a jalapeno logs about 5,000 on the scale.

"You take a bite. It doesn't seem so bad, and then it builds and it builds and it builds. So it is quite nasty," Paul Bosland, renowned pepper expert and director of the chile institute, told the Associated Press.

Researchers were pushed by hot sauce makers, seed producers and others in the spicy food industry to establish the average heat levels for super-hot varieties in an effort to quash unscientific claims of which peppers are actually the hottest.

That's something that hadn't been done before, Bosland said.

"Chile heat is a complex thing, and the industry doesn't like to base it on just a single fruit that's a record holder. It's too variable," Bosland said.

Bosland's team planted about 125 plants of each "super hot" chile pepper variety — the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, the Trinidad Scorpion, the 7-pot, the Chocolate 7-pot and the Bhut Jolokia, the previous winner certified hottest by Guinness World Records in 2007, beating out the Red Savina.

Peppers were randomly selected, dried and ground until researchers could extract the compounds that produce heat, called capsaicinoids. The capsaicinoids were so strong, they penetrated researchers' latex gloves, which had to be replaced repeatedly.

The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion's new notoriety is already making waves in the industry and among those who love their hot, spicy foods.

"As with all the previous record holders, there will be a run on seeds and plants," Jim Duffy, San Diego chile pepper grower, told the Associated Press. "Like Cabbage Patch dolls right before Christmas or Beanie Babies, it's like the hot item."

What physical effect does the pepper, also known as Brain Strain, cause when it's eaten? Many of those brave enough to try -- who use such names as Firehead Thomas or  Ted the Firebreathing Idiot -- have posted online videos showing the symptoms: The eyes widen and tear. Sweat starts to drip. The subject winces, grimaces and hops. It is said the tongue can be numb for days.    

"Whew, back of my throat, my tongue, it's filling up my tongue," Firehead Thomas says in one video. "It's pretty intense. It really heats your tongue, and it's building. Man, my tongue is on fire! Having trouble talking. Oh, it's bad. ... This is killer."

[For the Record, 4:10 p.m. Feb. 16: An earlier version of this post said New Mexico State University's  Chile Pepper Institute was in Albuquerque. It is in Las Cruces.]

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston

Photo: The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. Credit: New Mexico State University. Video: "Firehead Thomas" tastes the hottest chile pepper in the world. Credit: YouTube

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