Capsicum Cryptobotany

Chile peppers aren’t just beautiful berries hiding often-painful secrets, the pleasure they produce leads people into extremes… and has produced something of a mythology around chilli.

“The Most Pungent Pepper”

Case 1, the constant hunt for the most pungent pepper.

There is something of a cryptobotanical character to the quest for “the hottest” pepper (and even, in a way, to the hunt for the hottest chile sauce).

For one, even “the hottest” varieties will show quite some variation, depending on their growing conditions.

“Red Savina” was long the hottest (habanero) chile pepper, but Chocolate Habanero-types commonly got more pungent

Add to this that the procedure necessary to measure exact pungency is quite complicated (and can therefore be costly); not to mention that absolute pungency and pungency perceived by a human can be different.

The Guiness Problem and the Record

Finally, to actually make it into the Guiness Book of World Records and thus have a record recognized as valid, it takes money.

Both the testing and the submission for consideration cost a fair bit, so one has to be serious enough – and simply have the disposable money – about it.

This is not to belittle the work that pepper breeders have recently put into the further development of “superhot” varieties:

Ed Currie of PuckerButt Pepper Company holds the current record with his Carolina Reaper – again.

He first got that record in 2013, then promptly surpassed the average pungency levels achieved, in 2017. Now, the average SHU (Scoville Heat Units) of this variety are 1,641,000 SHU (with peak values reaching 2,189,000 SHU.

Nothing cryptic about that…

The Problem with SHU and Flavors

In my opinion, one thing still needs adding, though: The SHU values, the pungencies, are pretty irrelevant. Above some 300,000 Scoville units, a pepper is only good for masochists or fire-eaters, the record just a value put on paper.

The richness of flavors gets drowned by the pain… (unless you use them in minuscule quantities, in which they can add a lot of flavor – but I have a problem with C. chinense types, given my cooking is predominantly Chinese.)

The Problem with Scotch Bonnet

Unfortunately, varieties/pod types can also suffer the fate of becoming rather mythical creatures…

Case in point: Scotch Bonnet.

Most of the plants/pods/seeds sold with that moniker produce/are some kind of “mushroom”-pod type/shape, but not the shape of a Scotch Bonnet.

Dr. Bosland, upon inquiring, pointed out that looking for “Scotch Bonnet” would be like looking for “green peppers” in most places.

There are problems with how sensible the classification into pod types is… – and yet, not being able to find a chile pepper that produces pods like those which Jean Andrews, for example, used to illustrate “Scotch Bonnet” in her book “Peppers” is rather disappointing.

I hope it hasn’t disappeared and would love people to point me to the real thing, if they are growing it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.