So God Made the World's Hottest Pepper

It was during this growing process that a grad student working for him posted some data on the Internet and claimed that the Reaper was the new record holder.

Duffy initially thought Currie was just another fly-by-night operation that couldn’t back up its claims. But Duffy and Currie eventually became friends and business partners, in part united by their Christian faith.

“That is where all this came from, and God blessed me with a pepper that is just really, really, really hot,” says Currie. “I think that is another thing that pisses people off, because I say, ‘It’s not me, it’s God.’”

There are a few other things that piss people off about Ed Currie.

There are vitriolic claims all over the chilihead community’s message boards that the Carolina Reaper is unstable. As with any crossbreed, it takes generations of careful cultivation until its heirs consistently exhibit its desired traits. At best, critics accuse Currie of selling the Carolina Reaper before it was stable enough to produce a consistent crop, and at worst, they believe the pepper is inherently genetically unstable and incapable of ever producing a uniform crop.

“Some of us call it a witch burning party,” says Barrus, who believes the Reaper is stable, “because it was getting out of control the way they were attacking Ed Currie. I think it is human nature, this mob mentality to jump on it.”

Others accuse Currie of selling Reaper seeds and then retroactively declaring only authorized growers could use his pepper for commercial purposes.

In one notorious incident, a grower named Robert Richard posted photos of the Carolina Reaper plants he was growing to sell on a Facebook group for chiliheads. The thread soon turned into a discussion about whether he was allowed to sell the peppers or not. Currie chimed in and asked for Richard’s contact information so Currie’s lawyers could contact him. Richard did not respond to interview requests.

 “I have a whole legal team that takes care of that. I just like to grow peppers and let other people take care of that,” says Currie.

Currie is certainly protective of his creation.

He won’t send pods out to reviewers in case they decide to keep the seeds to grow, and when CBS did a piece on him he would not let them take any pods.

“People are pretty much backstabbers. People are always trying to get a new seed. They think if they tell me something [I want to hear] they can get one of my new [crossbreeds],” he says.

But overall his motivation seems more altruistic than capitalistic. He gives away far more peppers to causes like cancer research than he sells, and he has yet to accept any money from the people he has allowed to use his peppers. Instead he just asks that they use the peppers for a good cause like he does.    

“Give it back to the kingdom. Give it back to someone who needs it. It isn’t about making money. It is about helping people,” he says. “It was a gift to me. I don’t know why it can’t be a gift to everyone else, but we have to pay the bills I guess.”

Controversies aside, the Reaper faces another problem. Depending on how you measure it, the Reaper may still not be the hottest pepper. While it does have the hottest documented average, it does not have the hottest single pod.

“Ed has studies saying he has the highest average, and that is a good thing to have,” says Duffy. “But when you are going for records and you want to grab the media attention, you don’t run around saying, ‘I have the highest average.’ If you did that in sports people would turn off the TV. You want to see the fastest ever, not the average fastest runner.”

Currie not only disagrees that the average doesn’t matter, but says he’s seen Reaper pods that have far surpassed the Moruga’s record.

“We have been showing an average of 1.5 (million Scoville units) for the last couple of years,” he says. “I can show you data of one pepper in the 3 millions, but I don’t even publish that stuff because it is a fluke.” 

As far as Duffy is concerned, there is room for two kings.

“Record high, record average—one is American League, one is National League,” he says. 

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Nicholas Hunt s a writer based in Washington, D.C., and Knoxville, Tennessee. He has written for Men's HealthWashingtonian, and The Knoxville News Sentinel.

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