Ask The Hort Agent: Peppers

  • Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 9:33 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 9:35 a.m.

Question: Can hot peppers make you feel hotter?

Answer: I've heard tales of people putting ground up pepper in their shoes. This is supposed to make you hot enough to sweat. Personally, I opt for a pair of wool socks.  I've also seen people bite hot peppers then immediately begin to sweat profusely.  Does this type of heat keep you warm?  Research says it might.

The active ingredient in hot pepper is called capsaicin. Capsaicin increases a process called thermogenesis. This process is one method of staying warm, and is used by hibernating animals. Unfortunately, rather large amounts of capsaicin were used to study this process. It is doubtful a person could eat enough hot pepper to survive off thermogenesis.  Hopefully, more research will yield compounds that can at least be used in treating hypothermia.

I guess the feeling of warmth you get from drinking liquor is different, because researchers say you are more likely to freeze to death when drinking alcohol even though you feel warmer.

The burning sensation a hot pepper causes your tongue will probably keep you about as warm as a third degree burn from touching a wood stove. However, if you want to experiment with hot peppers you need to understand there is a range of heat. The Scoville Organoleptic Test was invented in 1912 by a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville. Today, high‑pressure liquid chromatography is used to measure capsaicin. This method is very precise. It measures the capsaicin levels in parts per million. It is then converted to Scoville units.

In 1994, a Red Savina Habanero registered an astonishing 577,000 Scoville units (su), and was the hottest pepper ever tested.  In 2006, a chili pepper called Dorset Naga registered between 850,000 and 970,000 su.  The new record only lasted a year.  Early in 2007, a chili pepper named Naga Jolokia scored over a million on the Scoville scale (1,001,300 su)!  This pepper is literally “too hot to handle.”  However, in March of 2011 Guinness Book of World Records crowned a new king.  The Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper smoked a 1,463,700 su.  Last year (2013) witnessed the new pinnacle of heat.

A South Carolina sauce company has developed a variety of peppers called 'Carolina Reaper'. While they average 1,569,300 su, they had one individual pepper measure 2.2 million su. These numbers are like the national debt. They are so high the mind of an average person cannot comprehend them. To give you some scale, pepper spray used to stop a grizzly bear typically measures 2 million su. 

If you want to experiment with hot peppers during the winter, I would discourage the use of the 'Carolina Reaper'. For info on capsaicin, visit  If you do not have internet access then call the Extension Office at (910) 893-7530 or email me at

The name of the SC company that developed the 'Carolina Reaper' is Puckerbutt Pepper Company. They sell a line of sauces with names like “Voodoo Prince Death Mamba,” “Edible Lava” and “I Dare You Stupit.” Don't you wish you had known this before Christmas?

Gary Pierce
Horticulture Agent
Harnett County Cooperative Extension

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