I have never eaten a Bhut Jolokia, also known as the Ghost Pepper. This unassuming little chili pepper is billed as one of the hottest peppers in the world. At over 1,000,000 units on the Scoville Heat Scale in some instances, the Ghost Pepper is roughly three times hotter than the hottest Habanero peppers ever recorded. Given its status as such a mysterious and powerful food, I figured eating a Ghost Pepper was an experience I should probably gain during my year of “I have never...” experiences. While I knew eating the pepper would most certainly result in a hell of a lot of discomfort, it was all but certain I would walk away from the experience with an uncommon victory and an amazing story to tell. As a result, I tracked down a source for the experience and scheduled an evening to eat a Ghost Pepper for the first time.
Now, this blog entry is going start a little differently than any other I have written. For the first time since starting my “I have never...” blog I’m providing a disclaimer. It is literally hours after I ate the Ghost Pepper and it is still affecting my body. While the intense heat on my tongue and throat have subsided somewhat, my stomach still feels like it is filled with melted wax. Stated plainly, don’t try this at home. The Ghost Pepper is insanely hot and causes searing pain. As this blog entry will demonstrate, describing the actual feeling is very, very difficult, but when I say it is hot, believe me. Stated plainly, this little red vegetable is HOT.
|The Bhut Jolokia, AKA The Ghost Pepper|
With that out of the way, I’ll dive into the story of tonight’s “I have never...” event. My first experience with a Ghost Pepper began when I arrived home from work this evening. After obtaining one of the peppers from a co-worker who had a source for the vegetables (thanks, Kristen!), I decided I would give the pepper a taste test before committing to eating the whole thing. As a result, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and cut into the pepper to remove a sliver of the vegetable for consumption. A moment after the knife plunged into the pepper I felt a sudden, subtle stinging in my nostrils and sinuses. That’s right, this pepper was hot enough that its aroma was enough to inflict a burning sensation in my body. Once I realized what was happening, I set down the knife, leaned back from the pepper, and looked at Rachael with wide eyes. “The smell is burning my nostrils,” I said in a quiet, concerned voice. Rachael responded by approaching the plate upon which the pepper was resting and taking a sniff. “Oh my God,” she said as the same sensation hit her, causing her to back away from the pepper. Suddenly, the idea of what I was getting myself into became real. This was going to hurt.
Although the effects of the pepper’s aroma made me somewhat nervous, I wasn’t about to back away from the experience. As a result, I returned to the pepper and quickly cut off a portion of the vegetable. Without hesitation, I popped the tiny red piece of Ghost Pepper in my mouth and let it rest on my tongue for a moment. Initially, the taste was sweet and flavorful. In fact, it was actually one of the most delicious peppers I have tasted... until the heat set in. After a few seconds delay a rush of intense heat swelled through my taste buds resting directly beneath the pepper. The heat was sharp and prolonged to the extent that with each passing second a renewed feeling of shock hit me when the heat of the pepper didn't peak. It just kept getting hotter until it literally felt like the tip of my tongue was being branded by a fine point of heated steel. I couldn’t believe the experience, and then it dawned on me; I had only consumed a sliver of the whole pepper.
|The Stare Down|
With pause I sat down at my dining room table with a glass of milk and the pepper before me. For a few minutes I mulled over what the full experience was going to feel like and how I would be able to handle it. Staring at the pepper, I thought about every possible outcome and about everything that could go wrong, with unlikely, and even foolish, scenarios forcing their way to the front of my mind. Eventually, I shook myself out of my racing thoughts and told myself there was only one way to know what the experience would bring. As a result, I took a deep breath, grabbed the Ghost Pepper by the stem, and raised it to my mouth. With my head cocked backward slightly, I slowly lowered the pepper into my mouth and bit down.
At first, the pepper’s presence in my mouth mirrored my earlier experience with a sample of the vegetable. As I chewed I didn’t feel immediate, overwhelming heat. I just tasted the sweet taste of the pepper as it rolled across my taste buds. Of course, I knew the initial experience wasn’t going to last. Just as my thoughts turned back to the coming ferocity of the pepper’s legendary heat, the Ghost Pepper made its full presence known. With shocking speed the heat of the pepper consumed my mouth and throat, once again blasting through what I perceived as a maximum with each passing second. As I fought the initial burst of heat I swallowed the pepper down and winced with pain.
|DAIRY! Give me Dairy!|
Over the next 30 minutes the heat from the Ghost Pepper continued to dominate the inside of my mouth and throat. Five minutes into the experience I had already drank three glasses of milk, which provided the only temporary reprieve I had from the overwhelming burning sensation. Beads of sweat were forming on my brow, and my nose and eyes were running like leaky faucets. My body was in full freak out mode, and my mouth was still on fire. Over time, that aspect of the experience slowly began to subside, but the peak of the pepper’s intensity incrementally crept down my throat. What had started as the hottest feeling I have ever had in my mouth became the hottest feeling I have ever had at the back tongue, then the hottest feeling I have ever felt at the top of my throat, and then the hottest feeling I have ever felt in the center of my chest. Although the heat in my mouth became relatively tolerable after the first half of an hour, it was clear a new battle was just beginning. The Ghost Pepper, with all its intensity was moving into my stomach, and the heat wasn’t winding down.
|Caleb is a saaaaaad (and hot) panda...|
|In the gut... and making a fire|
|This was about the time my body told me to keel over...|
|This was my final push before I caved and laid down|
About 45 minutes after I ate the pepper I started to experience a feeling similar to heartburn in the pit of my stomach. Although the tally of glasses of milk increased to five by that time (and a cup of yogurt), the heat in my stomach increased steadily. I can only describe the feeling as being like a moderate stomach cramp combined with what I imagine it would be like to swallow some embers from a dying fire. Basically, it felt very hot and unpleasant, and it was clear it was going to linger for some time. With the intensity of the heat growing in my stomach, my body eventually told me to curl up and put pressure on my stomach. At first, I simply leaned over in my chair with my head toward the ground and clenched my stomach. When that wasn’t enough, I moved to my living room and laid down on the couch. While the whole experience was periodically entertaining for Rachael, I obviously wasn’t digging the feeling of the pepper in my gut. In retrospect, I can honestly say the feeling of the Ghost Pepper in my stomach, while not as outwardly overwhelming as the first few minutes of having the pepper in my mouth, was probably the worst part of the experience. Its presence affected my whole body and made me feel like I was sick but not. Eventually, I started to feel a tingling in my arms and legs, and the bottoms of my feet and my palms became clammy with sweat. It was strange, and, of course, it was hot.
|Fetal position. That's all I could do.|