FORT MILL, S.C. -- Ed Currie holds one of his world-record Carolina Reaper peppers by the stem, which looks like the tail of a scorpion.
On the other end is the bumpy, oily, fire-engine red fruit with a punch of heat nearly as potent as most pepper sprays used by police. It's hot enough to leave even the most seasoned spicy food aficionado crimson-faced, flushed with sweat, trying not to lose his lunch.
Last month, The Guinness Book of World Records decided Currie's peppers were the hottest on Earth, ending a drive to prove no one grows a more scorching chili. The heat of Currie's peppers was certified by students at Winthrop University who test food as part of their undergraduate classes.
But whether Currie's peppers are truly the world's hottest is a question that one scientist said can never be known. The heat of a pepper depends not just on the plant's genetics, but also where it is grown, said Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. And the heat of a pepper is more about being macho than seasoning.
"You have to think of chili heat like salt. A little bit improves the flavour, but a lot ruins it," Bosland said.
Some ask Currie if the record should be given to the single hottest pepper tested, instead of the mean taken over a whole batch. After all, Usain Bolt isn't considered the world's fastest man because of his average time over several races.
Currie shakes off those questions.
"What's the sense in calling something a record if it can't be replicated? People want to be able to say they ate the world's hottest pepper," he said.
Currie's world record has created quite a stir in the world of chiliheads, said Ted Barrus, a blogger from Astoria, Ore., who has developed a following by videotaping himself eating the hottest peppers in the world and posting the videos on YouTube under the name Ted The Fire Breathing Idiot.
Barrus talks lovingly about trying the Carolina Reaper, even though the peppers usually send him into spasms of hiccups and vomiting.
"You only live once. This is safer than jumping out of an airplane," he said.
-- The Associated Press