Some men grow chilies for bragging rights. Ed Currie wants to save lives. Research has shown that capsaicin, the heat-producing compound in peppers, causes some cancers to die off; Currie wants to see what else it can do.
"The men in my family all died young from cancer and heart disease," says the Rock Hill, South Carolina, farmer and former banker. To produce medical-grade capsaicin, Currie crossed a Pakistani naga pepper with a habanero that grows on a Caribbean volcano.
Last fall, Guinness named his creation, the Carolina Reaper, the world's hottest pepper after one was tested at more than 2.2 million Scoville heat units – about 300 times hotter than a jalapeño.
"I've built up a tolerance, but it still hurts to eat one," he says. "Eating hot peppers releases endorphins – you've just got to get through the pain first."