Chili Grower Defends Carolina Reaper Amid Controversy, Explains How World’s Hottest Pepper Should Be Eaten

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A U.K.-based chili grower who specializes in growing Carolina Reapers issued a statement in defense of the world’s hottest pepper over the weekend, in the aftermath of reports that a man was hospitalized for intense “thunderclap” headaches after he consumed the pepper in a chili eating contest.

In an interview with Sky News, Bedfordshire, U.K., chili grower Salvatore Genovese explained that he has yet to encounter any reports of customers being hospitalized after consuming the Carolina Reaper peppers his farm has sold. He added the super-hot pepper is not meant to be consumed raw and that it should be cooked and used in small amounts due to its extreme heat.

“It’s not really designed to… just plonk it in your mouth and eat it… I would never do that and I wouldn’t recommend it,” said Genovese.

“Just cook with it, make a curry, infuse it slowly, take it out if you want to afterwards, and get the rich flavors from that super-hot chili.”

Additionally, Genovese speculated that the man in the aforementioned reports might have consumed a dozen Carolina reapers, as is often the case in chili eating contests that require competitors to consume as many super-hot peppers as possible within a given period of time.

The peculiar case took place in 2016, when a 34-year-old man entered the emergency room of Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, New York, complaining of a so-called “thunderclap headache.” As noted by NPR, the “otherwise healthy” man had eaten a whole Carolina Reaper during a chili eating contest and had initially gone home after the competition, despite already being in pain, only to head to the emergency room after experiencing an even more painful headache. Separately, Fox News wrote that the unidentified male patient also complained of dry heaving and “intense” neck and head pain after consuming the pepper.

After a series of medical tests, the blood vessels in the man’s brain were found to have narrowed, thus possibly explaining the thunderclap headaches. The case was published last week in the journal BMJ Case Reports, spurring a series of articles that documented the unusual circumstances behind the man’s medical emergency.


According to Mayo Clinic professor of neurology Todd Schwedt, thunderclap headaches, which get their name from the speed in which they strike and the intense pain that follows, are akin to “something exploding in [a person’s] head” and can sometimes last for weeks. He added that this was the first time he had heard of such headaches being linked to the consumption of hot peppers.

“When someone has a thunderclap headache, it should be considered an emergency, and it needs to be evaluated urgently,” Schwedt told NPR.

The Carolina Reaper, which was developed by PuckerButt Pepper Co. founder Ed Currie, is officially listed as the world’s hottest pepper on the Guinness Book of World Records, according to the Mercury News. With an average rating of 1.64 million Scoville heat units (SHUs), it is more than 200 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper, which averages approximately 8,000 SHUs. However, it might not maintain its status as the world’s hottest pepper for much longer, as Currie has reportedly come up with an even hotter pepper, called Pepper X, which averaged between 2.5 million and 3.189 million SHUs in various tests, and has already been submitted to Guinness for review.