One taste of a Carolina Reaper pepper can cause bodily harm.
Your face may turn red, you may cough and cry, and you may yell in pain.
Grown in the Charlotte, North Carolina, region by the Puckerbutt Pepper Company, the Carolina Reaper earned the Guinness world record in
2013 for the world’s hottest pepper. Te reason the company can certify its heat is due to the laboratory efforts of Winthrop Chemistry Professor Cliff Calloway and his students.
So how does Calloway prove the heat?
First, he freeze dries peppers directly from the field to remove the moisture. “Tat helps us make sure that all the peppers are the same,” Calloway said.
Te peppers are ground up and the flakes boiled in ethyl alcohol. Calloway runs the liquid through a high-performance liquid chromatography so each component can be separated, identified and quantified. Tis process allows for the extraction of the chemical compound capsaicin, which is one of the key ingredients that produces the heat sensation for humans.
Te whole procedure takes about a week.
Pure capsaicin rates at 16 million Scoville units, which is the measure of the pungency
RATING A PUNISHING PEPPER
or heat of the peppers. Te Carolina Reaper rates at 1.5 million units, while a habanero comes in at 350,000 units and a jalapeño is 3,500 units.
Calloway started working with Ed Currie, the developer of the Carolina Reaper, 10 years ago. Teir collaboration paid off in 2014 and in 2017 when the pepper’s place in Guinness’ hotness history was certified, a process Currie will undergo every three years moving forward.
Involved with growing peppers since 1982, Currie quit his job at Wells Fargo in 2012 to work full time at his Puckerbutt Pepper Company in Fort Mill. Te business has blossomed from making $100,000 in annual revenues to about $2 million anticipated this year.
“We’re hoping to triple that,” Currie 13
Trough his work with Calloway on laboratory testing, Currie has become one of Winthrop’s best ambassadors. During his travels to food conferences, trade shows, competitions and client visits, Currie always mentions his connections with the university.
He is proud to take his place as a South Carolina business that contributes to the local economy. “When we started out, we didn’t know we had the hottest pepper,” Currie said. “We knew it was just hotter than most.”
said, due to negotiations for nine new contracts. “We’re taking baby steps forward in growth.”
With its 42 branded products, which include hot sauces, gift packs and pepper seeds for those who want to grow their own, Puckerbutt ships to 95 countries on a regular basis. Trough online, wholesale and retail sales in its Main Street shop, the company has broken into the ranks of major manufacturers who deal in hot sauce, as well as small batch hot sauce makers.
Puckerbutt’s ties to Winthrop go beyond testing. Te company has hired nine graduates who work in various roles. Currie has 14 workers who work directly for the company and another 30 who work indirectly.