tl;dr: Persistence, patience, and a mindset of gradual improvements…a lesson learned via the Carolina Reaper.
Over the last year, I’ve been exploring the world of hot peppers.
The heat in a pepper is measured in Scoville Units.
A bell pepper has 0, since it’s not hot at all.
A jalapeno is around 5,000 (each pepper has a range in which it sits), and a Habanero starts around 250,000.
The top of the line is the Carolina Reaper, which clocks in above 2 million
As my friend Etan says,
“above 1 million is where the shit gets real.”
Capsaicin is the chemical that gives peppers their heat, causes your eyes to sting, and, if you get some on your hands and don’t thoroughly wash before touching your nose or, worse, your butt, well let’s just say I’ve been there and it’s not pleasant. At all.
Oh, btw, never drink water when eating peppers. It makes it worse.
A gradual approach to capsaicin, however, can have very different effects.
When I first tried it, his advice was simple.
“Take a small square of the pepper and place it on your tongue,” he said. (Note: you should wear gloves unless you know what you are doing).
He demonstrated for me.
“So, it’s kind of like dropping acid?” I asked.
“I’ve never done that,” he said.
“Oh,” I said, “well, it’s kind of like that…from what I have heard.”
But I digress.
Once the pepper is on your tongue, you just let it dissolve.
Especially when training, it’s smart to have milk, soy milk, peanut butter, even avocado…foods high in fat…that can help alleviate the intensity of the heat.
The first time for each Scoville level is intense. I needed 30 minutes start to finish on a Habanero, which is kind of like the “green belt” of hot peppers.
But the 2nd time gets easier. The 3rd time is even easier.
Until you level up…and then it starts again.
Over time, however, as you learn to respect the pepper, understand the flow of the process, and build a tolerance for the heat, you start to notice something beyond just the fiery sensations that are consuming your mouth.
Full Body Awareness
We have a saying in our family at dinnertime, when I bring out the peppers to add to whatever is being served:
“It’s not a meal unless dad is sweating profusely from his head.”
At some point, I take a paper napkin, open it up and place it on my bald head, patting down. Then, I remove it, and we hold it up to the light, observing the total amount of perspiration on the napkin. From there, we certify if it’s a “meal” or not.
But the in-between part is what now fascinates me.
Now, I am able to monitor the onslaught of the heat from the very beginning stages
- first, when it starts to feel hot in my mouth,
- then the waves of heat and blood flow starts to pulse through my body
- finally, I realize, “hey, it’s not that hot anymore, I made it.”
Over the course of the heat trip, there’s a little sweat, I can feel the heart beating a bit faster, my ear canals and nasal passages clear up, and there’s a heightened awareness throughout my body.
I’ve had all types of “heat trips” now.
Some that were surprisingly easy. Some that were really challenging and where I was still paying for it the next day. TMI?
But now, I am starting to enjoy the ride.
Just sitting with it, listening to the dinner conversation, or just by myself, appreciating the cresting and subsiding of the heat wave experience.
It’s not for everyone, but anyone can do it. That’s the point.
If you want to eat a Carolina Reaper, you can. You just shouldn’t do it first.