York County man cultivates world’s hottest chili pepper
Did you know that the hottest chili pepper in the world was cultivated right here in York County? “Smokin’ Ed” Currie holds a certificate from the Guinness World Records that certifies that his Carolina Reaper® pepper leaves all others behind in its heat intensity.
Ed Currie, described as the “Mad Scientist” of the pepper industry, has been dabbling in the cultivation of hot peppers for the past 40 years or so. Surprisingly, the super heat index of his record-setting pepper was somewhat of an accident. “I didn’t start out to develop the world’s hottest pepper,” said Ed. “I was actually trying to boost the cancer-fighting properties of this particular pepper.”
At a teenager, Ed became interested in hot peppers for health reasons. “Most of the men in my family died at young ages, from heart disease or cancer. So I started doing research on how to avoid that. I learned that indigenous populations around the equator have very low instances of heart disease and cancer. One of the things they have in common is that they eat hot peppers with almost every meal.”
Hot peppers offer many health benefits. They are high in antioxidants and have medicinal properties that fight inflammation, cancer and a variety of diseases. Ed began incorporating peppers into his everyday diet and began making sauces and salsas as a hobby.
“I went into the pepper producing business with a friend for a while, but then left to pursue a career in investment banking. Later I moved to South Carolina, and met my wife, Linda. She encouraged me to get back into the pepper business,” Ed said. “Linda even came up with a name for the business, The PuckerButt Pepper Company.”
It was actually one of Ed’s salsas that brought him and Linda together. “I was really interested in her, but she wouldn’t even talk to me,” Ed said. “Then I found out that she really liked salsa, so I made her a batch.” Evidently Ed’s habenero peach salsa served as a love potion, because it helped Ed win Linda’s heart.
At the time, Ed was growing pepper plants in his backyard, in friends’ gardens, and anywhere he could find a patch of dirt. He cultivated new varieties by cross-pollinating, yielding new varieties with different flavor profiles, spiciness, size, sweetness, nutritional content and other qualities.
As it turns out, Ed isn’t your typical backyard farmer. In college, he majored in biology, chemistry, horticulture and was even on a pre-med track at one point. “I was in college for eight years,” he laughed. “I loved every minute of it!” Ed excelled in his scientific studies, and brings that knowledge to the table . . . the kitchen table, that is. He can explain the chemical reaction that occurs in the mouth when capsaicin—the component that makes hot peppers hot—hits your tongue. He can also explain what to do when you’ve bitten off more than you can handle.
“After eating something really spicy, lots of people reach for a glass of milk or a spoonful of sugar to stop the burn. That doesn’t work. Capsaicin is an oil. What breaks down an oil?” Acid. So the citric acid in a bite of lemon or lime will do the trick.”
You’ll want to keep the limes close by when tasting the Carolina Reaper® sauce.
Rated on Smokin’ Ed’s scale of 5 out of 5, or “Stupit Hot,” according to Ed’s description, the Reaper Squeezins sauce is comprised of 97% pepper puree, and just enough vinegar to allow it to pour out of the bottle.
Splashes of HEAT
Tim Reid, at South Forty Farms shop in Lake Wylie, is excited about a selection of Carolina-made sauces and spices that is new to his store this year.
“It’s a company called Smokin’ J’s Fiery Foods. Some of it is really hot.”
Black’s Peaches grows more common chili peppers. “We’ll have jalapeños, cayenne, and habanero peppers,” said Arthur Black, owner of the family farm located at 1800 Black Highway in York. “We make some of our own sauces and chutneys, and have them in our store.”
Locally-grown chili peppers can be purchased in season at Black’s Peaches, Bush ‘n Vine, South Forty, and PuckerButt Pepper Company.
Containing such a high concentration of the precious pepper, the sauce retails at $25 for a 5 ounce bottle, but for most people that might be a lifetime supply. The pepper is used in more diluted products such as salsa, mustard, cream cheese, sauce blends, and even beef jerky.
The level of heat in chili peppers is measured by a Scoville scale, based on the amount of capsaicin, the heat-producing active ingredient. Pure capsaicin measures at 16 million. A sweet bell pepper has a Scoville score of zero, a poblano pepper ranges from 1,000-2,000, a jalapeño 2,500-5,000, and a habanero ranges 100,000-350,000.
Ed’s Carolina Reaper® pepper measured an average of 1.6 million on the scale, with some of these peppers exceeding two million units. The Carolina Reaper® put Ed’s company in the international spotlight, and business boomed.
For some, hotter is better. Indeed, there is a culture of “chili heads,” Ed describes, that revel in the ridiculous, seeking out the hottest of the hot to consume if only for bragging rights.
But for most, the peppers have to actually be edible to be enjoyed. Luckily, there is something for everybody. Ed has a variety of pepper products ranging from mild to extreme. PuckerButt Pepper Company has a storefront in Fort Mill, an internet site and growing distribution all over the world.
“We have a large variety of peppers, over 11,000 different peppers. I get inquiries and business from everywhere,” said Ed. Most of Ed’s peppers are grown in York and neighboring Chester Counties.
“We’re a true seed-to-table producer,” he said. “That means that we know where the product has been in every stage of production. We’re the only sourced pepper product in the U.S. and the largest supplier of hot peppers in the country.”
Ed’s company follows all-natural growing practices, not surprising considering his emphasis on health and nutrition. He partners with local growers such as Bush ‘n Vine, Springs Farms and several others, and is “hands-on” in every stage of the growing and harvesting process. Other ingredients used in his products are also sourced locally, including peaches, strawberries, tomatoes and more.
For a complete selection of products, visit the PuckerButt Pepper Company tasting room and store at 235 Main Street in Fort Mill or go to the website puckerbuttpeppercompany.com.