What is the hottest hot pepper, and could it really burn my mouth, or hurt my internal organs? – Brandon
Thanks for your spicy question, Brandon! Measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), as of 2013 the hottest chili pepper is the Carolina Reaper with 1,200,000-2,100,000 SHU. Runners up include the Trinidad Morgua Scorpion with a measure of 1,200,000-2,000,000 SHU and the Ghost Pepper [Naga Jolokia] has a measure of 1,000,000-1,600,000 SHU. By comparison, a regular Habanero is 100,000-350,000 SHU and a jalapeno about 8,000 SHU.
For reference, consumer pepper spray is 2,000,000 SHU and burns skin while bell peppers with 0 SHU are devoid of capsaicin. When eating a chili pepper, it’s the volatile oils containing capsaicin that irritate soft tissue and mucous membranes. The feeling that your mouth, tongue or throat is on fire is due to capsaicin’s release of Substance P (sounds scientific, doesn’t it?) which transmits pain and burning sensations to the same receptors that respond to actual heat.
There is no permanent damage to tissue (unlike from pure mustard or horseradish) but the sting can last for a while. Particularly in the stomach or esophagus if you’re prone to heartburn. Since the pepper’s bite is oil-based, drinking water won’t wash it away well. Milk soothes better. While ingesting hot peppers can be tolerated, be careful not to touch your eyes as they might swell and use care when preparing hot peppers – use gloves or wash hands if cutting them.
– Debbie J., MS, RD
Do you have a question about your diet or nutrition? Ask our dietitian by submitting your question to email@example.com or simply ask it in the COMMENTS section below.
To learn how to follow the “Ask Our Dietitian” Q&A CLICK HERE!