Monday, March 12, 2012

Chile Pepper Institute Studies What's Hot

By Monika Joshi, USA TODAY

John Hard, owner of CaJohn Fiery Foods, was not expecting to strike any deals when he visited New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute six years ago.

But what started as a kind gesture — creating a hot sauce and donating some proceeds to the institute — turned into a collaboration that is a key ingredient in his company's success. Located in Las Cruces, the Chile Pepper Institute is a non-profit, science-based organization dedicated to everything chile pepper. It conducts research on disease resistance, higher yield and better flavor of the crop. It also fields hundreds of questions a week from growers, producers, researchers and home gardeners.

 "We get a huge range of questions, from fertilizer for a specific variety to culinary questions about what type of chile pepper is used in what dish," says Danise Coon, senior research specialist.

In 2007, the institute declared the Bhut Jolokia the world's hottest pepper, and Guinness World Records certified it. Upon hearing the news, a few others claimed there was an even hotter chile, prompting many in the spice industry to ask the institute to settle the dispute. "I received at least 500 e-mails about this alone," says institute director Paul Bosland, a renowned pepper expert and professor at New Mexico State.


In February, the institute proclaimed the Moruga Scorpion the hottest chile pepper in the world, and already, the title has proven a draw for chile enthusiasts and the spice industry. Hard has created a salsa and hot sauce using the pepper, and the institute has sold out of seeds.

For the study, Bosland and his team planted several super-hot varieties of chile peppers, including the Moruga Scorpion and Scorpion, native to Trinidad; the 7 Pot and the Chocolate 7 Pot, hailing from Tobago; and the Bhut Jolokia, found in Assam, India. Ground-up samples of each variety were run through a high-performance liquid chromatography machine that counted capsaicinoids, the heat-causing chemical compound unique to chile peppers. A mathematical formula was then used to generate a number in Scoville heat units (SHU), which translates to heat intensity.

The Moruga Scorpion rated up to 2 million SHU, unseating Bhut Jolokia, which can be as hot as 1.58 million SHU. During handling, researchers wore gas masks, goggles, full-body Tyvek suits and two layers of latex gloves. Still, the Moruga Scorpion's heat seeped through to their hands, says graduate student Gregory Reeves, who was a part of the study.

For most chile lovers, including Bosland, a small sampling of the Moruga Scorpion was all they needed.

Read the complete story here.

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