Mary Roach travels to the state of Nagaland in India, where some of the world’s hottest chili peppers grow, to observe a chili-eating competition, in which contestants see who can eat the most insanely hot chilis in 20 seconds. This guy is dealing with the after effects of competing (perhaps on a vision quest):
The event itself is surprisingly low-key. The mood is one of stoic grimness. No one is screaming in pain. No one will be scarred by the heat. That’s not how capsaicin works. It only feels hot. The human tongue has pain receptors that respond to a certain intensity of temperature or acid. These nerve fibers send a signal to the brain, which it forwards to your conscious self in the form of a burning sensation. Capsaicin lowers the threshold at which this happens. It registers “hot” at room temperature. “It trips the alarm,” says Bruce Bryant, a senior researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “It says, ‘Get this out of your mouth right now!’” The chili pepper tricks you into setting it free.
The whole affair is beginning to seem like an anticlimax when I look up from my notes to see Pu Zozam headed my way. I have seen people stagger in movies, but never for real directly in my sightline. Zozam’s legs buckle as he tries to keep walking. He goes down onto one knee and collapses sideways onto the floor. He rolls onto his back, arms splayed and palms up. He’s making sounds that are hard to transcribe. Mostly vowels.
This story gives me the chance to alert you to one of my favorite units of measure, the Scoville scale, a “measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers”. As the article states, the chili used in the contest has been measured at 1,000,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). As a comparison, Sriracha sauce is about 1000-2000 SHU, jalapenos register 3,500-8,000 SHU, and habanero is about 100,000-350,000 SHU. (via coudal)