In early 2012, the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University – the nation's only research group dedicated to studying chilies – declared that, of all the chilies it had studied, the hottest chili on the planet is the golf ball–size Trinidad Moruga Scorpion with a pain-inducing heat of up to 2 million spicy-heat units on the Scoville scale. As points of reference, the jalapeño measures about 8,000 units, and the habanero, only 350,000. That record still stands, according to the institute.
Daredevils on YouTube have chomped on it; one nine-year-old even chowed down like a pro. The attraction? The taste and a kind of runner's high. The heat causes the body to churn out endorphins again and again to deaden the pain, like dopamine, says "Cajun John" Hard, once a fire protection engineer who stopped fires for oil companies down in Louisiana and Texas and these days sets taste buds ablaze at his company, CaJohns Fiery Foods, of Westerville, Ohio – the most-awarded hot sauce company in the world.
Hard entered the scorpion fray and produced a hot sauce from the chili he calls "one of those wicked things. It's not bad the first bite. But it really burns by the third. It's the first bite burning after you take the third bite," he says. "If you keep eating, you just keep building the fire for later."
CaJohns' 2-ounce bottle of Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Puree – containing pepper solids and a little vinegar – emits 1.4 million Scoville units. That makes it the hottest all-natural hot sauce on the globe, he says.
Yet something spicier than this delicious little puree does exist: any hot sauce using an extract of capsaicin – the colorless irritant that gives hot peppers their hotness. Extracts, so hot they're used to produce military pepper spray, are made by soaking hot chilies – usually a less-expensive variety – in a petroleum solvent, producing a tarlike extract that can be diluted with pepper solids and vinegar to make a hot sauce.
CaJohns also makes exceptionally fiery hot sauces out of these chili extracts. The company's aptly named Black Mamba Venomous Hot Sauce, which churns out a fire-eating 8 million Scoville units, is the world's hottest hot sauce based on a chili extract, in this case, an extract of chocolate habaneros.
With natural pepper sauces, says Hard, "you get a puree that'll be the hottest you can get naturally; that's for people who want to experience what the real pepper tastes like. The puree is less hot than an extract [but tastes better]." Get a mouthful in Hard's easy recipe below for a blazing-hot cheese and chorizo dip. Don't worry: The dairy soothes the fire just short of real pain.
Fiery Scorpion Dip
1/2 lb chorizo, casings removed
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz queso fresco, pasteurized
2 oz Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Puree
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
Pita chips or tortilla chips
In a dry medium-size skillet, sauté the chorizo over medium-high heat until almost crisp. Drain. In a slow cooker or the top of a double boiler, melt the cream cheese and queso fresco (available in most supermarkets) until you can blend them. When blended, add all 2 oz of Trinidad Moruga Scorpion Puree and the chorizo. Blend again, then carefully fold in most of the chives, reserving a little for garnish. Spoon into a warming dish, and scatter the remaining chives on top. Serve with pita chips, tortilla chips, or other sturdy chips that can scoop up the hearty dip without breaking.