THE HOTTEST PEPPER IN THE WORLD
The hottest pepper in the world is Pepper X, weighing in at over 3,180,000 scoville units. The Red Savina habanero was long thought to be the hottest, but it turns out there has been one twice as hot around for centuries.
THE SCOVILLE UNIT
The Scoville Unit is the measurement of heat in a pepper or sauce, named after the chemist Wilbur Scoville. A quantity of pepper is dissolved until it can no longer be detected, and is recorded in units of 100. The proper name is the "Scoville Organoleptic Test." These days, a sophisticated device called a liquid chromatographer is used.
Jalapenos range from 5,000-7,000
cayennes/tabascos are from 30,000-50,000
Thai and pequin peppers are about 70,000-100,000
Habaneros around 200,000 -300,000
WHAT EXACTLY MAKES IT BURN?
When you eat chiles, capsaicin irritates the pain receptor cells in your mouth. The receptors then release something known as "substance P", which alerts the brain to the pain. In response, the brain produces chemicals called endorphins that kill the pain and elicit feelings of well being. Does hot, spicy food taste less hot after a couple of bites? Chile enthusiasts say that this is the endorphins at work. Some experts theorize that it's the addictive nature of endorphins, not the taste of the chiles themselves that makes the spice so popular.
HOW CAN I PUT OUT THE BURN?
Reach for ice water when you eat a hot pepper? Not a good idea, not only will it not cool your mouth down, it usually makes things worse by spreading the capsaicin around. Beer might work (experts aren't sure), but the best way to put out the fire is to drink cold milk, or any dairy product (eg. frozen yogurt or ice cream). These products contain casein, which acts like a detergent that washes away the capsaicin. Other recommendations: sugar, salt, tortillas, hunks of bread and corn or lemon and lime juice used as a rinse.