The World’s Hottest Pepper Redux 2013

It shouldn’t be a difficult thing to tell someone what the world’s hottest pepper is. There can only be one king. The pepper with the highest average heat has always been considered the worlds’ hottest, it will always be so. So, we at Brooks Pepperfire Foods don’t have any discussion when it comes to the title for World’s Hottest Pepper… We go with Guinness Book of Records holder, the Butch T Trinidad Scorpion. If you want to know which pepper had the hottest one-off, then you’ll go with the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and good luck finding the needle in the haystack that is the one-off. In order to find theirs, the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico had to grow fields and fields of peppers, unfortunately, until enough of the peppers hit those peak heat levels, they won’t succeed in taking the Guinness away.

Oh, and don’t kid yourself, taking the Guinness away is only unimportant in the minds of THOSE who don’t hold it. If you don’t know, the chili pepper industry is a double-digit multi-billion dollar industry. And whoever owns the “World’s Hottest Pepper” is the financial winner of the chilli pepper lottery.

Unless of course, you’re not in it for the money and you get so sick of the controversy that you simply stop selling the peppers at all; but that is another story altogether.

For the purposes of our customers, let me explain how and why we have decided to take this stance.

In August 2012, HortTechnology, a bimonthly publication of the American Society for Horticultural Science, published, for review, a study done by the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico claiming the title of “World’s Hottest Pepper” for the Moruga Scorpion. What happened after that title was claimed in the media has been a most interesting display of jockeying for position, name calling and hurting of feelings within the industry. Dying down now, that discussion is still arguing over the answer to the question… What IS the world’s hottest pepper? Especially since the study has not yet undergone peer review and the record numbers attributed to the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga have not, as yet, been repeated by anyone else.

Knowing this, we were asked by several customers at the Spring One of a Kind Show in Toronto, and so, we knew when we got home we would have to determine with absolute certainty, the official Peppermaster answer to the question most often asked; What IS the World’s Hottest Pepper. It didn’t help that there we were selling the World’s Hottest Pepper, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” in a mash, but we weren’t offering what all the US news agencies were calling the new world’s hottest pepper. But was it really? It hadn’t even been peer reviewed yet! So we’ve had to explain ourselves, repeatedly and to ensure upon returning home, we wanted to be certain, absolutely certain that our choice for using the pepper with the highest average heat as the title holder was the correct one. After all, that is how the industry had been doing it for years. According to ASTA, the American Spice Traders’ Association, the HPLC method used by them is the Collins method and has been since 1998.

After three weeks of research and discussions with several experts in the field I’m left wondering how any layperson could answer this question sufficiently, succinctly and with any confidence. Although, we attempted to do so in January with blog; “Will the World’s Hottest Pepper Please Stand up?”. Interestingly, the battle for claiming the title has been bubbling since the first award was granted in 1994 to the Red Savina Habanero, a pepper developed by DNS spices. It held the title for a long time before the superhot chillies began to be identified and tested shortly after the turn of the century.

There is a diverse selection of true chilli eaters who will attribute the title to the pepper the eater feels is the hottest to them. Many have no clue that the superhots even exist and amongst the known superhots, there is already quite a variety of different superhot chillies. Some in the pepper industry swear that the Guinness Book of Records title, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” is the only choice and others adamantly subscribe to the Chile Pepper Institute’s study, giving the title without question to the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga.

One wonders why there is such a diverse opinion as to what the hottest pepper is, the science should be able to tell us quite unequivocally, no? Don’t the Guinness people use science? Of course they do.

The science itself is exact, but human interpretations differ. To measure the heat in chili peppers, one must take a quantity of peppers, dry them, process them for a simple science lab test, done on a machine in a laboratory that must be expressly calibrated to a specific heat level and then, of course, this test must be duplicated with relative certainty in three separate labs and the pepper with the highest average heat wins.

Scientist Sue Robb BVSc from New Zealand said this about the HPLC test,

“When I did them at Uni, we had dinosaurs still coming off the Ark. Chromatographs were rare and expensive machines but we did use them in our first year. I don’t think they are hard to use (they come with instructions suitable for a five-year old). Correctly interpreting the results can be harder.”

Of the test, local micro-biologist, Anders Lafon BSc Agr. Microbiology said,

“They’re pulling a single test from the group of data and using it to suggest they have fulfilled the requirement for data to claim the title. As far as I can see, the CPI study is cherry picking a result for the sake of monetary gain.”

Essentially, research shows that any first year university student should easily be able to take a simple HPLC test and come up with a relatively accurate capsaicin count for the sample, regardless of how they interpret the resulting data. In fact, here is the HPLC process taught at Lasalle University in Pennsylvania: PDF Document of HPLC Process class, University of PA

Apparently, it’s not usually that simple. It seems you have to decide WHICH HPLC test you’re going to go with because there are a variety of them. Fortunately for us, the HPLC method used by both CPI when it applied for the Bhut Jolokia in 2007 and the method used by the current record holder is the same test that ASTA has recommended since 1998; they both used the Collins method, developed AT the CPI Institute under the tutelage of Dr. Paul Bosland himself.

According to some, the tests are difficult to calibrate, according to others, it’s a cake walk. According to some the tests given by Guinness are not the same as the studies done by the CPI. Hence the source of the discord found while researching this article.

Missouri-based Scott Roberts, blog author and chile aficionado at said

“In my opinion, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is the hottest. The results were from a 10 or 11-month-long study on super-hots from the CPI. It was not a “one-off” Scoville test like some of the others who had (rather dubiously) had gotten the Guinness Record from very thin and shaky scientific evidence, like the Infinity Chilli or the Naga Viper. But, when you get right down to it, the various Scorpion and 7-Pot chile peppers are all above 1 million SHU, and on any given day with the right conditions, it’s plausible that any one of them could peak just a little higher in HPLC testing.”

Jim Duffy of Refining Fire Chiles sells the seeds and fruit for both of these peppers. He has been involved with these superhot pepper studies done by the CPI between 2009-2012 and he says

“both Butch T Scorpion and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion cultivars average well over 1,000,000 SHU heat levels. This is based on test results from 5 labs and studies done by Gregory Reeves NMSU and Dr. Marlin Bensinger a capsaicin scientist.”

Candice Burns, owner of Australia’s Wildfire lists both peppers in her online seed shop as they are, with the Moruga having scored the highest HPLC test known, and the Butch T as the pepper currently holding the Guinness.

So with so many members of the industry suggesting there is something untoward about the studies published by the CPI, we did a little research to find out just what exactly the truth was behind how the Butch T is the holder of the Guinness World Record, when the Moruga has scored an SHU test so much hotter. In for a penny, in for a pound.

As part of the Ste-Anne Farmer’s Market Chili Pepper Festival to be held on the 21st of September this year, we’re hoping to hold a World’s Hottest Pepper challenge, if a local farmer can break the Guinness World Record, well, the pepper industry will beat a path to their door, it seems. So, we wrote to Guinness and told them, we wanted to know what we had to do to qualify for the World’s Hottest Pepper Title. This kills two birds with one stone, I got the needed information for this article and I got the information for the Chili Pepper Festival.

It is rather interesting series of efforts that one must make in order to simply make the application. You are required to set up an account with Guinness, yes, indeed, Guinness the beer company. They email you the details of what you have to do and you have to do it to the letter. They warn you that if one iota is out-of-place, that your application may be delayed or even rejected.

What is really cool about Guinness is that they go through tens of thousands of applications DAILY and they are quite meticulous in ensuring that their records are valid, or so they claim. In the event that the record applicant chooses to not bring in the Corporate Adjudicators, (which by the way is the ONLY way to earn an instant Guinness World Record), they are required to provide the following to Guinness, in effect, jump through the following hoops:

1. A letter summarizing the details of the record attempt, who, what, where, when, (they already know why), and the precise measurements attained. The letter also asks that the “evidence” be therein listed.

2. They require TWO independent witness statements or a single civil law notary’s affidavit confirming the measurements and details of the claim.

3. Video footage of the event.

4. Photos of the attempt.

5. Specific evidence (as listed in the guidelines): in our case, those specifics are as follows:

This record is based on the heat of a chili pepper.
This record is to be attempted by an individual.
This record is measured both in Scoville heat units (SHU) and in American Spice Trade
Association pungency units, using high performance liquid chromatography. These units
measure the concentration of capsaicin in the pepper.
1. A signed statement of authentication must be submitted by a suitably qualified
person (e.g. a horticulturist), including a contact address and telephone
number. The species and/or variety of plant must be correctly identified and
stated in all cases. Claims submitted through established specialist publications
are welcome.
2. SHU and American Spice Trade Association pungency units must be
determined using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which must
be performed by a certified laboratory.
3. Details of the growth of the plant(s) must be provided.
4. At least two independent witnesses, including at least one chemist and one
horticulturist, must submit statements regarding both the growth process and
testing process.
5. Any articles about the pepper published in scientific journals should also be
6. Photographs of the pepper and the testing process must be provided.
§ The name of the organisation, company or person(s) making the attempt must
be given, along with the date and place.
§ The event should take place in a public place or in a venue open to public
Ø Failure to include the required documentation will ultimately delay the outcome
of your claim or lead to its rejection.

6. ARRA Schedule Two signed — Record Claimant’s Submission Release.

7. ARRA Schedule Three signed — Supporting Material Release.

They also encourage any back up evidence you might have, media coverage, etc.

So you can see, although, Guinness is a beer company, they are going to great lengths to ensure that you are really getting what they believe to be the record. Now part of the research alluded to the idea that the earlier record holders and indeed the current record-holder did not follow the strict guidelines that CPI followed in determining their record score, those who currently hold the record are quite adamant that industry standards were followed, as is Guinness. (Author’s note: I did not bother to research the previous record-holders and what “standards” they were held to. I made this decision, because Guinness states quite clearly in their standards documentation that the one attempting the record has the responsibility to ensure that their “standards” for the attempt are the latest standards. I cannot imagine Guinness becoming more lenient in how they govern their standards as time goes on. I would expect that those standards would actually become more and more stringent as time goes on.)

So, essentially the question to be answered is to what standard did Guinness hold the current record holding Butch T? And the answer is the same way that CPI tests their chillies.

In fact, the current record holder, The Chilli Factory chose random samples from three separate planting locations, so as to fortify the accuracy of the data they obtained. (This is a commercial pepper growing organization, these guys do this for a living). They dried the chillies and then sent them to the lab. They used the Collins method which is exactly the same method used by CPI’s Bosland and Baral in 2007 when CPI received a record for the Bhut Jolokia. Horticulturist, Mark Peacock, B.Hort Sc (Hons 1st Class) was the resident scientist on the test.

What this tells us here at Brooks Pepperfire Foods is that essentially, any HPLC test is going to yield a relatively accurate SHU/ASTA rating that determines the world’s hottest pepper. So whether the test scores highest or not, it should be duplicatable for Guinness, especially if it’s that much hotter than the current holder.

So, how do we in the hot sauce industry work with the knowledge of the SHU/ASTA rating? Well, essentially, the same way the scientists usually do. We want to know the averages.

Testing a specific set of peppers in three different labs will give us a low score, a high score and an average. The average tells us what we can expect to be the heat of any given batch of that pepper, it’s a combination of all of the peppers in the batch. Using the average makes it easiest for us to predict what the final heat of a specific product will be. Using Jalapenos, for example will NOT ever give us a hot sauce equivalent to anything above the average heat of all of the jalapeno peppers in the batch, some will be hotter than others, but the average of all of the peppers is the maximum we can get. The same is true when making a hot sauce with superhot chillies. So, if we make a sauce with Scorpion Moruga peppers, shouldn’t we get a 2,000,000 heat level mash? Well, it’s not so easy as that. According to the study by CPI, the score was simply the highest score of an individual pepper during the years of testing. The actual average of the pepper was lower than the score that Guinness has accepted as the Butch T’s average heat score.

This brings us full circle and now we hold solid research science to back up our findings. We have decided that the Peppermaster official statement on the World’s Hottest Pepper is that given the tested average heat level of the chile peppers, that pepper which records the highest average will hold the title of the World’s Hottest Pepper, exclusively. Interestingly, according to the paper presented for review to the HortTech digest, the study was designed to discover the heat levels of several high-heat chile pepper varieties. Unfortunately, the study did not include two peppers which we here at Peppermaster have had for years, the Dorset Naga or the Trinidad Scorpion, Butch T.

But, what the study did find is that, of the pepper species tested, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion held the highest variety average. (Editor’s note: Neither the Dorset Naga nor the Butch T, two of the world’s best known superhots, were included in the study) That average, 1,207,765 SHUs, unfortunately for the CPI, is well below the average attained by the Guinness Record holder in 2011, 1,423,700, although, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is documented that of all of the species tested, the highest individual plant rated a whopping 2,009,231 SHUs making it the hottest ever recorded pepper. Interestingly, all of the superhots test scored individual plant testings in excess of 1,000,000 SHUs confirming the concept that any of these superhot chillies, given the correct growing conditions could easily take the Guinness Record away from the Butch T; but it has not done so yet, the two-year old record still stands.

When these findings were reported to Greg Brooks, Peppermaster for Brooks Pepperfire Foods in Rigaud, Quebec, Canada, he said

“As the Peppermaster I am more interested in how the flavours of a meal or of a pepper sauce become enhanced by adding the right quantity of the right pepper(perhaps a blend of peppers) to achieve the desired impact of flavour and fire.

For the average spicy food lover out there who is cooking with and eating hot peppers there is always a point at which too much fire kills the flavour.

This is as true for the novice as it is for a well-seasoned chilihead. Be persistent; practice improves one’s ability to experience richer flavour under the duress of fire! This is why I eat hot peppers, oh and the rush…. makes me feel alive!

The goats taught me long ago that individual peppers on the same bush have wildly different heat levels, so if you are eating just one, it’s a crap shoot. What if you used the lowest of the measures (953,703 SHU) that the Moruga scored and not the recently touted 2,009,231 SHU high score for the Moruga being claimed. It is mis-leading because everyone else in the world goes by averages, not the highest single score.

If you are watching a one-mile race for the title of the world’s fastest human the title goes to whomever crosses the finish line first, not the runner who ran fastest in the middle of the race, that wins the prize!

As a food product maker the average heat of a pepper is the only number to use if estimating the final SHU of a product made with that pepper. If I were to use the number suggested by Dr. Bosland my claim would be false by a huge margin. The pepper holds potential to perhaps become the World’s Hottest Pepper, but un-like the world’s fastest man, it is only fast occasionally.

Don’t forget that once any pepper is picked, and chopped up and diluted by 2 lbs of chicken legs on the grill, the heat is determined by how much you apply, not by how hot the original pepper was….

My advice: Eat more Peppers!”

In conclusion, we at Brooks Pepperfire Foods Inc. Are confident in declaring the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper to be the current World’s Hottest Pepper. And we challenge anyone growing superhots to go get the title if they want the big money. Because THAT is what the industry is looking for.

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