How Hot is Too Hot?

Many people avoid spicy foods. Perhaps they can’t bear the taste, or perhaps they can’t bear the consequences spicy foods have on their stomaches. As a person with Indian parents, I have been around spicy food my whole life. Because of this, I have noticed that other people that come from places with a considerably hotter climate eat considerably hotter food. This, apparently, is no coincidence. While many of us hailing from these climates have a high threshold to spice, we would all fall prey to the hottest pepper in the world: the bhut jolokia chili pepper, also known as the ghost pepper. Discovered by Paul Bosland, professor of Horticulture at New Mexico State University, the pepper rates at 855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville heat units, a measurement of spiciness. That’s 107 to 417 times hotter than a jalapeño and 10 times hotter than a habañero.


Hypothesis: Spicy foods can have a dramatic effect on the human body, possibly to the extent of killing you.

Studies: Bosland made claims that a 1980 research study calculated that 3 pounds of pepper in powder form could kill a 150 pound person. A man Ruari Barratt was hospitalized after eating a burger laced with in concentrated piri piri sauce from India. In the most significant case, a San Francisco man who entered a contest at a local restaurant ingested a pureed ghost pepper atop a hamburger. He began immediately vomiting after eating the burger and could not stop, landing him in the emergency room. He developed chest and stomach pain, presumably because he could not stop vomiting. A CT scan showed a torn esophagus.

Conclusion: It is not the pepper itself that can cause all this damage, but rather the reaction to the pepper. The hole in the man’s esophagus was not burned simply by coming in contact with the ghost pepper, it was a tear as a result of the frequent retching a vomiting from ingesting the pepper itself. So perhaps for a person who has little to no reaction to spicy food, they would be completely fine after eating one of these red hot peppers. While people feel hot as the take a bite of spicy food, there is actual no change in temperature. This is because false heat sensation is capsaicin’s ability to latch onto pain receptors known as TRPV1, which are normally only activated in the presence of heat. Once the heat-sensitive receptors are triggered into activation, your brain is made to believe you are actually close to a source of heat.


Works Cited

7 thoughts on “How Hot is Too Hot?

  1. Alexandra Paxton

    This was very interesting to read about and I now understand why my friends can eat much more spicy foods than me. I’m typically a wimp when it comes to eating anything remotely spicy and my Indian friends have no reaction to foods that are very spicy to me. Here’s link saying that ghost peppers have actually been made into bombs used by the Indian government which is so crazy!!

  2. lkv5058

    This post was very interesting. I have never understood the appeal of extremely spicy food. It seems like torture to me. At some point, there is no way the last could possibly be enjoyable. Maybe people just like proving to themselves and others that they are tough, who knows. You’re insight into the correlation between climate and spicy food really caught my attention. I did some research and found this paper from The University of Chicago. It has some valuable information on why this correlation may be taking place.

  3. Erin Nicole Kemp

    Wow this sounds really dangerous. It sounds like a wavier needs to be passed out with this pepper when served. I have had wendy’s “ghost pepper” fries, but after reading this I doubt they were real ghost peppers because they were no where near that spicy.

  4. Devon Green

    I loved reading this because I too am indian and grew up always eating spicy foods and loving it. Obviously I wasn’t sitting around eating ghost peppers but I did enjoy eating the spices in all the foods. Hearing that too much spice can actually kill you isn’t surprising at all seeing as some of the peppers I’ve eaten have caused me a great deal of pain, I’m sure eating too many ghost peppers can put someone over the top. All in moderation.

  5. mzm6020

    I also have Indian parents, so I know how that feels! For me i cannot take as much spice as my parents. It is almost impossible! I never knew that the sensation of spice was due to the react of the esophagus! That is ridiculous to me. Next time I see my parents, I need to tell them about this because this is always a topic of discussion in our dinner table. Here is a list of the hottest peppers!!

  6. jnb5450

    This was awesome and so cool to read about. This article really stuck out to me because I LOVE spicy foods, but I never really understood why I can’t handle eating the spiciest pepper at the table. I also wondered how people have different tolerances for spice, do some people just not like the taste but they can handle the spice? Or do they love the taste? Is it our taste buds or our mind that’s telling us when to stop. I am shocked to read about the hole in the man’s esophagus caused from a hot pepper. It makes sense, though, that it was from the constant vomiting. This makes me question, what is it thats really burning out throats? This article is really cool and tells us why spicy foods taste so hot:
    Really awesome post! I wish there was another live link to bring me to another article/ situation with spicy foods because it’s just so interesting!

  7. Taylor M Stewart

    Wow, never knew spicy food could literally kill you. I always find myself outdoing it when I make spicy foods, ending up with a stomach ache to cry about later, but I love the taste of that pain. I don’t think I could stop eating spicy foods, but spicy too the point of death is out of the question. Pass the hot sauce please! Lol

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