This Chilli Is So Hot, You'd Have To Drink 250,000 Gallons Of Water Just To Put Out The Fire
By James Langton, Telegraph Newspaper Online
"We live in an extreme world," explains Blair Lazar, a hot sauce creator. "And I make extreme foods." In his hands is the hottest spice in the world, an ultra-refined version of chilli powder so fiery that customers must sign a waiver absolving him of any liability if they are foolish enough to try it.
Locked in a crystal flask sealed with wax and a tiny skull, Mr. Lazar's mouth-blistering concoction is pure capsaicin - the chemical that lends habanero and jalapeno peppers their thermo nuclear heat.
His "16 Million Reserve", which is released to the public this week, is the holy grail of hot sauces, the hottest that chemistry can create.
It is 30 times hotter than the spiciest pepper, the Red Savina from Mexico, and 8,000 times stronger than Tabasco sauce. To put the tiniest speck on the tip of your tongue is to experience "pure heat", Mr. Lazar says.
Although capsaicin does not actually burn - it fools your brain into thinking that you are in pain by stimulating nerve endings in your mouth - some medical experts believe that it could kill an asthmatic or hospitalize a user who touched his eyes or other sensitive parts of the anatomy.
Mr. Lazar has trained his palate to endure the sensation, but he remembers the moment he dared to taste his "16 Million Reserve."
"The pain was exquisite," he said. "It was like having your tongue hit with a hammer. Man, it hurt. My tongue swelled up and it hurt like hell for days."
The eye-watering qualities of peppers are measured in internationally recognized Scoville units, developed by Wilbur Scoville, an American chemist who, in 1912, asked tasters to evaluate how many parts of sugar water it took to neutralize capsaicin heat.
Today, capsaicin content is measured in parts per million, using a process known as high-performance liquid chromatography; one part being equivalent to 15 Scoville units. Benign bell peppers rate zero Scoville units and the Red Savina entered Guinness World Records at 570,000 units.
Pure capsaicin, meanwhile, has a heat score of 16 million units - inspiring the name for Mr. Lazar's latest creation. Each of the 999 limited-edition bottles, priced at $199, contains just a few crystals. The powder is so strong, however, that Mr. Lazar estimates that it would have to be dissolved in 250,000 gallons of water before it could no longer be tasted.
His career as a hot sauce creator began when he found that the best way to clear drunks out of his seaside bar was to give them free chicken wings dipped in an eye-watering home-made hot sauce.
Now he runs Extreme Foods in New Jersey, selling Blair's Hot Sauce, including "Mega Death" and "Jersey Death," the latter, according to Mr. Lazar, being the world's hottest usable condiment.
He keeps a fridge full of iced spring water in his office for those brave enough to try some. Most tasters sweat heavily and are unable to see for tears for up to half an hour.
It takes several tons of fresh peppers to produce 1lb of capsaicin for the 16 Million Reserve, and the work takes months. First, moisture is removed from the fresh peppers until a thick tar-like substance remains.
The means by which all further impurities are eliminated, leaving pure capsaicin powder, is a trade secret, but the work takes place in a laboratory where Mr. Lazar and his team wear sealed suits with masks to avoid inhaling the dust.
Five years ago Mr. Lazar created "2am Reserve" in honour of the hour at which he once closed his bar. It was hotter than any other chilli product on the market, measuring up to 900,000 Scoville units.
He then distilled even stronger chilli extracts, including the scorching "6 AM Reserve" at 10 million units. Most of the signed and numbered bottles of "16 Million Reserve" will be bought by aficionados known as chilli heads.
Buyers have to sign a disclaimer warning that any handling "must be under a controlled environment using protective gloves and safety eye wear."
"It shouldn't be used for flavor," says Mr. Lazar. "The only function is its heat value." He prefers not to speculate on what might happen should anyone be foolish enough to down an entire bottle. Rinsing the mouth with milk is among the best remedies as the capsaicin binds to fat molecules; it will also dissolve in alcohol.
Internet sites such as the hot sauce weblog and cosmicchile.com have been abuzz with talk about this week's release, with many collectors planning to buy at least two bottles - one to display and the other to try.
But one chilli head who obtained an early sample dropped a single grain into a pan of tomato soup. After persuading his wife to try a spoonful, he reported that: "She threatened divorce once she could speak again."