Columns and stories of life from the Fredericksburg area.
WRY TOAST: Scorpion stings unsuspecting duo
BY EDIE GROSS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
HYPOTHETICAL scenario: A co-worker picks up a baggie of peppers from the office calorie counter, walks over to you with a grin and challenges you to an on-the-spot pepper-eating contest.
A. Decline, recalling that this is the same co-worker who ate a mustard packet he found on the office calorie counter simply because someone dared him?
B. Decline, saying you’ve already eaten lunch and you’re counting calories?
C. Decline, noting that a message left with the peppers states that at least one of them measures 2 million on the Scoville heat scale, and your extensive knowledge of Scovillian science tells you that swallowing this pepper is akin to gargling with law enforcement-grade pepper spray?
D. All of the above?
E. Accept the challenge because you’ve never turned down free food in your life, you’re trying to eat more vegetables and you mistakenly believe that a Scoville is like a Pakistani rupee—2 million of them really don’t add up to much?
Obviously, the answer is E.
I should point out that this is the second time I’ve accepted a pepper-eating challenge from Assistant Sports Editor Justin Rice.
The first pepper we split a few weeks back—also found on the newsroom’s communal calorie counter—was really mild, so I was admittedly a tad cavalier this time around.
The pepper we pulled out of the bag to eat this time was squat, wrinkly and salmon-colored. It looked harmless, sort of like that quiet neighbor who later turns out to be a serial killer.
In any case, we each popped half of the pepper into our mouths and began to chew. At first, it was kind of tasty. About 10 seconds into the experience, my taste buds experienced a little kick.
Roughly 3 seconds later, things got interesting. And by “interesting,” I mean “the same feeling you get when you rinse your mouth out with jet fuel and then apply a coat of lip gloss with an acetylene torch.”
Turns out, a co-worker had gotten these peppers at a local hot pepper eating contest, and he’d left them on the calorie counter, figuring folks could take them home and cook with them.
He even typed “Super Hot Peppers” at the top of the note he left with the bag, thinking for some reason that would be enough to deter any monkey business.
In legal parlance, I believe that’s known as “an attractive nuisance,” like putting a “no trespassing” sign on an abandoned waterslide park, figuring that’ll keep the kids out.
We’d apparently eaten something called a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which is as bad as it sounds. New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute declared it the world’s hottest pepper in February, an interesting tidbit that would have been beneficial to know before I put it in my mouth.
Justin even found an article online—after the fact, of course—where a San Diego pepper grower compared the sensation of eating one of these things to a “crack-like rush.”
If by “rush,” he meant “overwhelming urge to throw up, followed by a primal need to hook one’s mouth up to a fire hydrant,” then yes, it was quite a rush.
I spent about 10 minutes with my face in a water fountain, trying to put out the fire. Then I raided the ice machine, figuring I could cool the burn that way.
As it turns out, this—much like eating the pepper in the first place—was a terrible idea.
The stuff that makes hot peppers hot is capsaicin, a word derived from the Greek term Capsicum, which, roughly translated, means “DO NOT EAT THIS, ESPECIALLY IF ONE OF YOUR CO-WORKERS SUGGESTS IT!”
Not only can water not dissolve capsaicin, which is an oil, but it tends to spread the burn around. Which is exactly what happened.
About 15 minutes into what I was pretty sure would be a near-death experience, if not a fatal one all together, someone in the newsroom said she read somewhere that milk could stop the burn.
I am lactose intolerant, so dairy is usually the cause of my emergencies, not the cure. I was weighing my options when another co-worker—coincidentally, the same one who put the peppers on the calorie counter with a blatantly insufficient warning label to begin with—offered me his yogurt.
I figured a little indigestion was a fair price to pay to douse the inferno that was my mouth. And sure enough, it worked.
As for Scoville units, which are apparently more akin to British pounds than Pakistani rupees, why not measure food heat using a scale that’s a little more transparent to the average person?
Peppers could be labeled with easily understood ratings like “mild,” “medium,” “hot,” “hot enough to make you regret eating it” and “hot enough to make you involuntarily crap your pants.”
This particular pepper was just shy of that last rating, which is a good thing. I’d have hated to stuff that yogurt down my pants.
Edie Gross: 540/374-5428