Spicy food industry on fire as more eaters seek the heat

Ed Currie is proud of the new world’s hottest pepper that he developed at his South Carolina farm. But after his own experience eating his own creation, he cautions others about what he’s calling Pepper X.

“I was feeling the heat for three and a half hours,” he said.

And that’s not all he was feeling. 

“Then the cramps came. And those cramps are horrible,” Currie added. “I was laid out flat on a marble wall for approximately an hour in the rain, groaning in pain.”

Currie is known as Smokin’ Ed. And his Puckerbutt Farms is known for its smokin’ hot products. His peppers, and others like them, are feeding an increasing appetite for spicy foods in America.

In introducing a new line of hot ketchup varieties this year, Kraft Heinz said its research showed nearly 50% of millennials and generation Z consumers use spicy sauces. And they are on the lookout for more. 

An analysis by the restaurant investment group Foodbytes found major chains in America added 275 items last year that included the word “spicy.”

“Some of the most popular dishes are the spicy pork noodles,” said chef Chad Newton of Nashville’s East Side Pho.

Among the top 10 fastest-growing items on restaurant menus include dishes seasoned with Tajin, a blend of mild chili peppers, lime and sea salt. It’s considered a mild spice, like the poblano pepper, which ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville heat units.

Compare that to the record-breaking Pepper X.

“The official Guinness World Record for Pepper X is 2.693 million Scoville heat units,” said Currie.

It was crossbred with the Carolina Reaper, which was Currie’s old record holder.

“Is this the pinnacle? No, it’s not the pinnacle,” Currie added. “We’ve got other peppers that initial tests are higher. We’re just starting the testing now. It’s going to be a minimum of five years before we’re ready for that.”

Currie says he’ll be picking up his Guinness World Record award at the Tennessee Hot Sauce Expo, which is  scheduled for Nov. 4-5 in Nashville.