It’s the dead of winter: I’ve been writing and thinking about the cold and about heat. This led me to the strange world where we falsely experience heat commonly caused by spicy food; mainly hot peppers. The sudden interest of mine in hot peppers curiously crossed paths with a recent directive from my wife when she said, “Get the car, we’re going to Miami.”

Going to Miami involved picking up our daughter’s belongings. Disguised as an important family business trip, this convenient excuse was her opportunity for travel south to seek out winter heat. But there was a common intersection: it seems that our route would pass through Fort Mill, South Carolina: home of “Smokin” Ed Currie, cultivator of the world’s hottest pepper, the “Carolina Reaper,” and his business, The PuckerButt Pepper Company. This would give me a chance to meet Mr. Currie to find out what he and his peppers are all about. So it was, “Yes dear, I’ll get the car.”

The Carolina Reaper is currently the world’s hottest pepper as recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records. You know, that’s the book that holds the world record for being the publication most frequently stolen from libraries. The Carolina Reaper is so named because it was hybridized in South Carolina and if you are anywhere near the pepper it will, you know ... try to kill you. It has been described as having a pleasant, sweet, citrus-like taste followed by repeated and unrelenting waves of hot lava that cannot be purged or squelched. 

I have been a big fan of hot sauce since after the Johnson administration when I discovered it was better at numbing political pain than ketchup. Mr. Currie’s PuckerButt emporium promised to add a new dimension to the hot sauces I normally have at my disposal. 

What’s that? No, I wasn’t about to touch or even introduce myself to his famous reaper pepper. I have a few more columns to write before I experience anything like the eternal fires of hell.

We met Mr. Currie in front of his business but when I put out my hand to shake his, he demurred since he had been touching things that had in turn, touched The Pepper. He didn’t want to take a chance that we might get some of the capsaicinoids (chemicals that cause the burning sensation) from his hands to ours. We might use our own hands to wipe our eyes or nether parts, causing us to run screaming and blind into street traffic, as so often happens at his business. We all agreed to bump elbows instead.

His staff was simmering commercial quantities of pepper mash inside and the air was too heavy with the essence of police pepper spray, so he led us next door to his office. Even there, a burning sensation assailed our eyes and throat — but without the pleasant and sweet citrus-like taste. I suppressed a mild urge to run out of the building, screaming, into traffic.

In the office I pretended to be a reporter and he pretended to be interested in answering my questions. I was half expecting and really hoping to find Mr. Currie an interesting nut case — but you don’t end up being the owner of a successful business being a wacko.

He identifies as a farmer but he’s a far more complex character as he is also a family man, researcher, horticulturalist, geneticist, chemist, accountant, business owner and manager, preacher and, maybe, a visionary. He sees his future pepper plants becoming the source of pharmaceuticals to treat a number of chronic diseases that research has shown can be altered by hot peppers.

However, you do need a certain wacko quality to deal with extremely hot peppers on a daily basis and videos are available on YouTube of him eating the Carolina Reaper whole and unedited. They are worth a look. Compare these to the videos posted of amateurs trying to ingest the pepper for the first time. He delighted in letting us sample hot sauces that were on the edge of tolerance but, to his credit, did not try to kill us by suggesting we sample his more deadly offerings.

If anyone interested in alternative heat for the winter is driving his way, stop and at least taste his chocolate. It looks and even tastes like chocolate but has a tendency to start burning until the tongue vaporizes, you lose your voice and the brain melts. Twenty minutes later, you still can’t scream for mercy. It’s fun.