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Mary Roach Traveled to a Remote Village in India to Try Some of the Hottest Peppers on Earth

You can learn about one of the hottest peppers in the world, and you won't even have to eat one.


Some people really enjoy incredibly spicy food and will go out of their way to find the hottest thing they can, though we’re not sure most people would travel halfway around the world for pepper. Mary Roach isn’t most people, and that’s exactly what she did for a recent Smithsonian Magazine article on the Naga King Chili.

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Roach, who Geekosystem readers might know from her books Packing for MarsStiff, and Bonk, writes about science differently than most people. There’s a focus on the people  — even the dead ones in the case of Stiff — that are involved, and she tends to inject herself into the story. It always makes for a great read, and “The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers” is no exception.

Anyone (us, for example) can tell you that Naga King Chili rates anywhere from 500,000 to 1,500,000 Scoville Heat Units, classifying it as a superhot chili, and in fact one of the hottest in the world, but Roach also talks about the culture of the village where it’s grown, and the experience of not only eating one, but also going to a local farm to get it, and the person who prepared it for her so she didn’t just pop the whole thing into her mouth.

These peppers are hot, dangerously so. The active chemical that makes hot peppers hot, capsaicin, is what’s used to make pepper spray. Napa King Chilis specifically were weaponized as grenades by the Indian government to use against protesters.

If you find yourself enjoying “The Gut-Wrenching Science Behind the World’s Hottest Peppers” (and we think you will) maybe you should check out Roach’s latest book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. It’s all about human digestion from chewing to, you know, pooping.

You can find information on Gulp and all of Mary Roach’s work on her website,

(via Smithsonian Magazine, image via xaimex)

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Glen Tickle
Glen is a comedian, writer, husband, and father. He won his third-grade science fair and is a former preschool science teacher, which is a real job.

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