The Carolina Reaper is the hottest chile in the world: as high as 2.2 million Scoville units
A jalapeño is 15,000 Scoville units. Chau Tu reports in Science Friday:
The first time Ed Currie tasted the Carolina Reaper, a fire-engine red chili pepper the size of a golf ball, “it knocked me to my knees,” he says. “I was very surprised.”
Currie, who’s the founder of the PuckerButt Pepper Company and cultivator of the Carolina Reaper, says he wasn’t trying to create the hottest pepper in the world. His initial aim was to produce a pepper packed with capsaicinoids, a family of compounds that has been used in pharmaceuticals such as arthritis creams, and that Currie had heard might be useful in treating cancer or heart disease (any solid proof of this remains elusive, though Currie is optimistic).
But capsaicinoids are also what make chili peppers hot. Of those compounds, capsaicin is the most common.
Cliff Calloway, a chemistry professor at Winthrop University in South Carolina, says the capsaicin molecule looks like a key, with a round end and a tail coming out of it, and acts like one, too. “It kind of fits into these little nerve cells in your tongue,” he explains, and when that happens, you perceive the sensation of heat. “So even though it’s not really a chemical burn, like getting burned by a match or a flame or anything like that, your nerve cells get the signal from the capsaicin ‘key’ to make them think that they’re getting burned,” says Calloway. . .