In 1912, a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville came up with a test to measure the spiciness of peppers. His method used taste testers to determine how many times one needed to dilute a paper before the capsaicin — the chemical compound within peppers which makes them spicy — is indetectable. The science behind it has since been refined, but still today, the hotness of a pepper is stated in Scoville units. A bell pepper, which contains no capsaicin at all, has a 0 rating. Jalapenos sit around 5,000. Serranos are approximately 25,000, and habaneros about 300,000.
Which is why if you get the Four Horseman Burger at Chunky’s Burgers in San Antonio, it may be for free. It comes with all three of those, sure, sure — and something called the ghost chili, which rates at 1 million Scoville units. When the burger was developed, the ghost chili (officially, the Bhut Jolokha — a name given to it by its native India) was the hottest known, but it’s since been leapfrogged in an ongoing battle to develop the hottest chili pepper out there. But no matter — Chunky’s still offers the Four Horsemen only under a few conditions: You have to be 18, can’t be pregnant, be in good health (and have no blood pressure issues), and sign a waiver. That’s the bad news. The good news: if you complete it in 25 minutes or fewer, and then keep it down for five minutes after without eating or drinking anything else, your burger — and a cooling glass of milk after — are on the house.
As Chunky’s owner told NPR, the ghost pepper is so hot that few make it through the challenge — only about 3% succeed — and a few times, a contestant customer has called an ambulance. Even preparing the peppers is a challenge in its own right. Cooks wear special latex gloves to prevent them from getting any of it on their hands, as the intense burning feeling may last for days. Leaving the chilis on the grill too long can — and has — meant an evacuation of the restaurant, as the peppers’ smell can cause a tear gas-like effect.
Which is probably why India is looking into turning the ghost chili into a hand grenade-deployed weapon.
From the Archives: McHotDogs: You won’t find ghost chilis at McDonald’s. And you won’t find hot dogs there either. Ever wonder why?
Related: Ghost chilis — 15 for $3.99.