In 1981, a young Ed Currie sat inside a dorm room in Phelps Hall at Eastern Michigan University with his friends, discussing over a keg of Lowenbrau Dark what they were all going to do with their lives.
"I said I was going to grow the hottest pepper in the world and that I was going to cure cancer," Currie says now. He even wrote it down.
Today, "Smokin Ed" has accomplished one of those goals. In November 2013, he was awarded the Guinness World Record for growing the world's hottest pepper with his pepper HP22B, also known as the Carolina Reaper. He is the grower, producer, manufacturer and retailer at the PuckerButt Pepper Company in Fort Mill.
Smokin' Ed talks to CL about discovering the world's hottest pepper, the worst reactions he has seen from people eating it, and how to build Reaper tolerance.
Creative Loafing: How does one know he or she has the world's hottest pepper? Was there a seminal event that tipped you off?
Ed Currie: I was working with a pepper that was literally four generations old, and every time I took a nibble on it, I would get dizzy. I thought, "This is a really hot pepper. I'm gonna see what happens when I give it to someone else." My friend came over. He tried it and starts making all sorts of noises. Then, he gets down on his knees and he starts throwing up. So, I was like "OK, this is cool." I ate a whole one, and it was a magical experience. You get high as shit.
So, I'm high as crap, my friend is on the ground puking. We have a bunch of people come over and I break out the peppers. Everyone but one other person is on the ground throwing up. Guess what? As soon as they were done, they wanted to try that again. And I knew I had it.
What are some of the worst reactions you've seen from people eating your peppers?
I've seen people pass right out. Their body can't take the endorphin load. I've seen people on the floor crying because they've never experienced pain like that, and I've been slapped at least a dozen times by women when they've tried peppers. They have no idea what hit them. People take a bite and then they get the deer-in-the-headlights look like, "Oh, crap, what did I do? What am I gonna do?" and then the fear is all over their face.
How do you build tolerance for peppers as hot as yours?
Well, how does a boxer get used to getting punched in the face? The answer is, it still hurts — you just get used to the pain. I can eat Reapers one after the other because my body has become accustomed to what happens. It's painful, it hurts. But I'm training for that prize.