World's Hottest Pepper: The Perfect Weapon?

The Indian military has announced plans to use the world's hottest pepper — otherwise known as the ghost chili — in a new series of smoke grenades used to combat terrorists. NPR's Melissa Block speaks to Joey Prado, owner of Chunky's Burgers in San Antonio, who has been using the pepper in his recipes and says it would make a perfect weapon.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The bhut jolokia, otherwise known as the ghost chili, is so powerful, so spicy that the Indian army wants to use it to fight terrorists. They're working on a stun grenade harnessing the power of the chili, which has been deemed the hottest pepper in the world at more than one million Scoville heat units. By comparison, a jalapeno might have a Scoville rating of 5,000.

Well, it turns out the ghost chili has been deployed for the last year and a half, not in a grenade but on a burger, at Chunky's Burgers in San Antonio, Texas, where Joey Prado is the owner.

Mr. JOEY PRADO (Owner, Chunky's Burger): It was a curiosity thing. You know, we get people in here, being in south Texas, people like spicy. So I thought, let's see how spicy we can get it. I'd heard of this pepper and finally found it, somebody who could bring it in out of New York, actually. And we tried it here. I said, well, let's try it on a burger, see how hot we can make it and see what people could tolerate. They find out pretty quick, the first bite into it.

BLOCK: I guess the ghost chili makes a jalapeno seem like vanilla ice cream or something.

Mr. PRADO: It's like an olive compared to the ghost chili.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: An olive?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah. Literally, it's about 100 times hotter than a jalapeno. So, yeah, jalapenos are just literally like olives compared to it. I eat them all day long.

BLOCK: Is this kind of a bragging rights thing, do you think, for people who come in? They want to put themselves up to the test, see if they can handle the ghost chili?

Mr. PRADO: That's exactly what it is. I guess being here in south Texas, it's a machismo thing. You know, they want to see they think they can handle hot, and if this is the hottest pepper, they want to do it. They want to try to do it, anyway. I would say maybe one out of every 30, 40 people can actually eat that burger because it's just crazy hot.

BLOCK: What do they look like when they're eating it, tears streaming down their face?

Mr. PRADO: Oh, yeah. The tears coming down, the nose is running, the lips are bright red from being on fire. They're just constantly - they're having trouble keeping it down because they just want to spit it out, it's just so hot. It looks like, you know, their puppy died or something because they're just crying, and nose running, and it's crazy.

BLOCK: Well, what about for the poor folks who are having to work with this pepper in the kitchen?

Mr. PRADO: In the kitchen, yeah, they got to be very careful because if they keep it on the grill too long when they saut� them, it can clear the restaurant out. I mean, it's like tear gas. You start coughing, your throat itches, your nose starts to run. It's a dangerous pepper.

BLOCK: Well, I guess that's why the Indian army would want to use it as a weapon, right?

Mr. PRADO: I can easily see that because, yeah, it's just crazy. I mean, if they can weaponize it, it's going to be fairly easy for them because I think we have a weapon here in the kitchen every time the guys forget to take them off the grill.

BLOCK: Do you get complaints from your neighbors?

Mr. PRADO: You can actually smell it outside. Here, I've been outside, and I know when they're making the burger. You can feel it in your throat. It just tickles, and you just start coughing nonstop, and of course, everybody clears out the restaurant. So I know for a fact that they're making a couple of burgers back there.

BLOCK: Are the cooks wearing special gloves when they're handling these chilis?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah, they wear latex gloves because if they get it on their hands, even if you wash it, it'll transfer, you know. The next thing you know, their arms will swell up, and even if you wash it, it's still on there. You've got be very careful with this pepper.

BLOCK: Do you have some kind of warning on your menu?

Mr. PRADO: Actually, if they come in and order the burger, they have to sign a waiver.

BLOCK: Really?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah, they have to be over 18, can't be pregnant, have no medical conditions that may be affected by it because it'll raise your blood pressure. You'll start to sweat. And we have people say their hands start to tingle, their ears start to burn. It's crazy hot. If they don't sign the waiver, we won't make them the burger.

BLOCK: Proceed at your own risk.

Mr. PRADO: Pretty much. I think we've had EMS out here a couple times, actually.

BLOCK: Really?

Mr. PRADO: Yeah, believe it or not. People have tried it, and they come in with their buddies, so they try to force it down. It's hot, but they're going to do it.

BLOCK: Well, Joey Prado, thanks for talking to us about it.

Mr. PRADO: Not a problem, Melissa. You can come in any time.

BLOCK: Joey Prado is the owner of Chunky's Burgers in San Antonio, Texas, where you can try a burger with the scorching hot ghost chili, if you dare.

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