Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hottest Pepper in the World

In my backyard in Emmaus grows a plant bearing about four dozen Bhut Jalokias. A combined 50 million Scoville units of heat are trapped in this little crop of peppers, which are the hottest in the world! I’d call that a lifetime supply of HOT. Clearly there are those who attach great value to homegrown fire—I infer this from the popularity of the Youtube videos that feature to all appearances sane young men (nearly always men) who boldly pop a pepper whole into their mouths, munch, and swallow. A strange sort of suspense ensues, where the viewer watches in anticipation of a horrific outcome—will he fall thrashing on the ground, or, worse, vomit? I have not done an exhaustive survey of this video genre but did watch as one (apparently) civilized young man with a clipped accent took off his glasses. Later in the 10-minute video, he put them back on. This was the height of the action. Oh there were beads of sweat, and his speech was halted at times but he remained amazingly calm under fire. I ascribe the viewers’ high regard for these videos to admiration for those who can withstand extreme self-torture and still keep their cool. And I admit, I was bizarrely enthralled by the man’s composure.
Personally, I have no use for the issue of this plant, planted purely out of curiosity, and I feel a little bad about that. There’s a serious amount of capsaicin in the 50 or so fruits on my potted plant that could be put to use to kill prostate cancer cells, relieve pain, stop evildoers in their tracks, or (and this is my favorite) repel elephants! But it just doesn't work for my purposes—a mere whisper of Bhut would overwhelm a huge bowl of gazpacho. So I walk right by the potent peppers, harvest my tender lettuces and tomatoes, and then compile that sweetest of treats, a BLT (with pesto) picked, sliced, and eaten all within a quarter hour. Capsaicin releases endorphins, I know. But I prefer stumbling onto bliss as basil, tomato, and bacon juices mingle and drip, and I sop up the red-green dribbles on my plate with the toasted corners of the layered feast.
I suppose I could make a pretty Bhut ristra, hang it in my kitchen, and watch it slowly shrivel. I wonder if the fabled Bhut euphoria would permeate the air.

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