I remember the first time I tried a truly-hot pepper sauce. It was sometime during the late 1990s, at a local store I’ve long since forgotten the name of, a place where I’d previously purchased sauces that remain staples for me today, such as Blair’s Death Sauce and Pain is Good Batch 37 Garlic Sauce. The clerk said they’d just gotten in a new sauce from Blair’s, called After Death.
“It’s just a liiiiitle bit hotter than the Death Sauce,” he said, and then the lying bastard offered me a sample. I eagerly shook a couple of dabs onto a cracker, popped it into my mouth, and quickly descended into a frenzy of hiccups, tears and general misery. It was a miserable experience.
Naturally, I bought a bottle of the stuff.
Years later, I am still fascinated and oddly addicted to hot sauces, but I’ve learned my limits. I can eat a habanero pepper in the process of making my homemade sauces, and I can eat measured amounts of some extremely hot sauces, but I don’t mess with the ever-increasing levels of Scoville units, which is what measures capsaicin in peppers, determining their heat.
But recently, I met a guy named Matt at a local brewery who grows hot peppers on his property. He and his wife apparently eat them with gusto, and he ended up giving me bags of two different types of peppers: Bhut jolokia, or ghost peppers, which were until 2012 considered the hottest peppers on the planet, and 7-Pot peppers from Trinidad, which are hotter.
I couldn’t wait to make some sauce with them, but it also finally tempted me into doing something I said I would never do — I decided to eat a ghost pepper, just to see what might happen. These things are several times hotter than a habanero, averaging just over 1 million Scoville units (by comparison, a jalapeño pepper measures about 8,000).
This was uncharted territory for me.
So, in the midst of making some sauce the other day, I decided to simply pop one into my mouth, chew it up, and swallow it, and then write about whatever might happen next.
I decided that I would give myself five minutes to absorb the experience before drinking any milk, which is typically the preferred buffer for extreme doses of capsaicin. When I dug into the peppers, I saw that they had been cut into halves before being frozen, which suited me a bit better. I plucked one out, thawed it and finally sat down to take the plunge.
I chewed it maybe seven or eight times before swallowing, and as the pepper went down my throat, I began to cough. Seconds later, as it descended into my stomach, my nose began to run. The heat began to swell in my throat and spread across my tongue, although I have to say the citrusy flavor was thoroughly enjoyable. Still, it wasn’t long before I started to salivate. My entire tongue soon was ablaze with the peppery heat, and my eyes began to water. My nose ran, and my face began to feel flushed.
I wondered if I’d made a mistake.
Two minutes in, it wasn’t letting up, and I mentally noted that a habanero pepper usually has already begun to even out by this point. Sweat beads formed on my forehead, and I started coughing again before the heat filled my chest, like the finish on a low-quality bourbon, except hotter. Approaching three minutes, my extremities and face begin to tingle.
The next phase had my belly beginning to rumble. The rumble stopped for maybe 15 seconds, and then returned as a loud gurgle, which concerned me after having watched videos of people eating ghost peppers and regurgitating within a minute or two. My tongue was still blazing, with little to no relief, but I continued on.
At four minutes, I realized I was about to win the battle. My eyes began to feel hot somehow, and that weird rush of the endorphins was still strong — there is almost a mild dizziness and euphoria involved — but the pain was subsiding.
At five minutes, I gave my palate and throat a milk bath, followed moments later with Alka-Seltzer to help kill some of the acid in my stomach. But the burping lasted for a good hour, with that familiar flavor revisiting my palate each time. But, hey, at least I didn’t wretch. Or worse.
If you don’t love heat, I don’t recommend eating a ghost pepper — or even half of a ghost pepper — but I have to say that I rather enjoyed it overall. Now I can’t wait to see how the sauce turns out once it ages for a couple of weeks; I might get to have the experience all over again without having to thaw a pepper.
Apparently, I survived death yet again.