Ted Barrus, 37, from Pullman Washington is the internet sensation as the self-acclaimed ‘fire-breathing-idiot’. Barrus is not in fact a circus-performer, but rather a culinary enthusiast who takes it upon himself to challenge the spiciest spices known to man. His latest sampling is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, the pepper recently named world’s hottest by researchers at the New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute.
Barrus passes on jalapenos, and even habaneros, and opts only for the peppers known as “superhots” and “nuclears,” such as the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. This “superhot” hit an average of more than 1.2 million Scoville heat units, making it many thousand times hotter than the jalapeno, which hits about 5,000 units.
Despite the incredibly intense burning — which persists for about 20 minutes — Barrus says the 40-minute period of bliss that follows is worth the pain.
“There’s a massive endorphin rush, and I feel really good after all the pain and craziness,” he said. “My body starts tingling all over, my hands and arms start to go numb, and I sometimes get lightheaded and euphoric. It feels good.” Released in response to stress and pain, endorphins are brain chemicals that reduce the perception of pain.
The researchers say that this endorphin rush is precisely what makes capsaicin, the vanilloid compound in chilies responsible for its spice, an effective remedy for pain and other medical conditions.
“The endorphins work to block the heat. The body produces them in response to the heat, which it senses as pain,” said Paul Bosland, co-founder and director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute.
Capsaicin is also used by people with the skin disease psoriasis to decrease itching and inflammation, according to the university.
Some research has also suggested that capsaicin can also help with appetite suppression, but there are not yet any solid data to determine what role, if any, the chemical plays in weight loss.
Studies have also suggested that capsaicin may play help kill off prostate cancer cells.
“In test tubes, researchers found a correlation between increased cell death and capsaicin,” said Mehta.
There have also been studies that found that people who eat a lot of chili peppers have a lower incidence of prostate cancer, Bosland said.
“This doesn’t mean hot peppers cure prostate cancer, but it may play a role in preventing it,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the heat per se, but they have a lot of carotenoids and flavonoids, which scavenge free radicals in our system, and free radicals are known to cause cancer.”
While Barrus may or may not be aware of the health benefits brought about by his favorite spice, he remains enthusiastic to sample the chilies, albeit warning his fellow spice junkies not to overextend themselves.