FORT MILL — Ed Currie popped the peanut brittle fresh from the PuckerButt Pepper Co. kitchen into his mouth. It took only a second for his taste buds to react to the pepper mash in the brittle.
The mash is from his “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper,” the world’s hottest chili pepper.
“That’s good!” he told the cook.
After 20 minutes of conversation, Currie’s eyes started to water. His nose started to run and it became more difficult for him to speak. He grabbed for a bottle of water.
“Wow! That peanut brittle is REALLY good!” Currie shouted to no one in particular, as he tried to quench the heat overtaking his mouth.
The watery eyes, running nose and the time-lapse delay are normal reactions for those who try Currie’s pepper or products made from it.
“They’re hot as crap,” Currie said of his peppers, certified in November as the world’s hottest by Guinness World Records. “It hurts like hell, but I usually can keep talking.”
Currie, who lives in Rock Hill, eats between five and 10 of his peppers a day.
Some who eat his pepper throw up. When he was developing “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper,” he asked six friends to sample one of the crossbred peppers. When four of them threw up, he knew he had a winner – the world’s hottest pepper, grown in South Carolina soil at farms in York and Chester counties.
“People think you have to be in some exotic place to follow your dream,” Currie said. “I had a dream and I did everything I could to follow it.
“I knew the world’s hottest pepper could be grown in York County. It just was convincing the rest of the world I was telling the truth.”
With the help of Winthrop University chemistry professor Cliff Calloway and his students, Currie sought the Guinness record. The students tested peck after peck of peppers to measure not only their hotness, but also to make sure the peppers could be replicated.
On average, “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper” has a Scoville heat unit rating – a measure of the concentration of the chemical compound capsaicin, which produces the heat sensation in your mouth – of 1,569,300. Jalapeno peppers have a Scoville rating from 2,500 to 8,000.
Guinness proclaimed Currie’s pepper beat out the former record holder, the Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T,” which has a Scoville rating of 1 million to 1,463,700.
While no two of his hot peppers are exactly alike, most describe them as having a scorpion-like tail. The hotness certainly stings like a scorpion.
Business at PuckerButt Pepper Co. showed modest gains after the Guinness announcement. Local radio shows came calling, as did the national networks to talk with the world record holder.
But it wasn’t until after Christmas that Currie – master of the power of the pepper – understood the power of the press.
The Associated Press wrote an article about Currie and his pepper in January and distributed it worldwide.
Orders for “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper” seeds, other products with its pepper mash – orders for just about anything hot on the PuckerButt website, which is just about everything – overwhelmed operations at the company’s retail and Internet operations on Main Street in Fort Mill.
PuckerButt is getting more than 1,500 orders a day now.
Not bad for a company that started selling its products at local festivals and at Plaza Fiesta, where a good day’s sales were measured by two digits.
“I had no idea what this could be like,” Currie said. So far, “it’s a roller coaster ride like you could not believe – all uphill.”
As a result of the exposure and the demand for his time, Currie sought congressional help to get an expedited passport so he could fly to Europe and Asia to talk about his “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper.”
To meet demand, he’s considering expanding, possibly buying 600 acres of farmland in either Chester or York counties, and opening a processing plant in Rock Hill. His peppers now are grown on about 29 acres in the two counties.
Currie plans to keep his Fort Mill retail spot, partly out of location, partly out of quaintness – mostly because when you walk in, the pepper smell immediately assaults your senses.
Last week he met with potential investors sporting a T-shirt that read “Old Men Rule,” a PuckerButt baseball cap atop his head. The 50-year-old made no apologies for his appearance – or his past. He said he is coming up on 15 years clean of alcohol and drug abuse.
Currie said he’s not out to impress people.
“What impresses them is my products,” he said.
But, he cautions, don’t take his simple, “Biblical-based” business outlook as naivete.
“People think I’m a pushover, try to take advantage of me,” he said.
He has learned a person’s word or a handshake is no longer good enough. He now gets signed contracts.
What hasn’t changed, he said, are his priorities.
Each morning, “I get down on my knees and say, ‘God, what’s your will for my life today?’ I’m not supposed to figure out the ‘whys.’ I’m supposed to do that ‘whats.’ ”
The order of importance in his life is God, his family – which recently grew by one when he and his wife adopted a son, Eddie III – his friends and coworkers, his community and finally, his peppers.
He has some peppers in development, he claims, that are even hotter than “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper.” He is also studying the medicinal powers of peppers. His medicinal research is one of nine companies housed at Rock Hill’s technology incubator.
“These are my babies,” Currie said, while gazing at 10 pounds of fiery red peppers spread before him. “This is where it all comes from. These are what got us on the map.
“Growing these peppers and the crossbreeds, it’s God’s will for my life.”
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066 • firstname.lastname@example.org