Fort Mill resident Ed Currie is serious about spice. Perhaps the best testament to this is his most recent Guinness World Record certificate, which names his Pepper X variety as the World’s Hottest Pepper … breaking the former record of his Carolina Reaper pepper.
Weighing in at an average of 2.69 million Scoville Heat Units, Pepper X puts the standard jalapeño to shame, out-spicing it by roughly 2.68 million units. However, even after developing this notorious pepper variety — the result of a 40-year journey in dabbling, digging, and dishing out plenty of pepper products — Ed remains rooted in humility. After being named by The State as one of South Carolina’s top five iconic brands last summer, he said, “I don’t know how I made that list! They had me up there with Duke’s Mayonnaise. I just grow peppers, man. I’m not an iconic brand.”
The success of PuckerButt Pepper Company, which he founded in 2008, would suggest otherwise. In 2013, Ed and his team were awarded their first Guinness World Record, recognizing the farm’s Carolina Reaper as the world’s hottest pepper. For comparison, this pepper rings in at roughly 1 million SHUs below that of the recently acclaimed Pepper X.
While the media attention and accolades are indisputably good for business, Ed says that his motivations for producing the world’s hottest pepper lie elsewhere. The real goal, he explains, was set into motion several decades earlier with a few fascinating personal discoveries he made in the chemistry lab and his college library. “Research I did at the library led me to indigenous populations around the world that didn’t have cancer or heart disease unless they were highly westernized.” Through this research, he was introduced to capsaicin, one of the many capsaicinoids that can be extracted from peppers, that has been studied extensively for its potential as a cancer-suppressing agent.
Ed’s interest in the medicinal application for hot peppers took on a new level of significance when his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002. This diagnosis prompted him to double down on his efforts to increase the levels of capsaicinoids in his peppers with the hope of contributing to cancer-fighting options. He has since turned this research over to those in the medical field, noting, “There’s a whole bunch of studies going on right now about peppers that pretty much started in our backyard.”
These advances in multipurpose pepper production are made possible by a process called selective crossbreeding, which involves a motley crew of botanists, geneticists, chemists, and farmers. Ed says, “I get the crossbreeds started when they’re in generation three or four. We start testing the compounds if the initial generations show promise. If it has the right compounds at the fourth or fifth generation, then we pursue it to stability. If it doesn’t, I get the seed stock out of what we’re doing and we look at something else. It’s a crapshoot; maybe one out of 10 crossbreeds goes to full stability.”
Fortunately for Fort Mill area residents, Ed’s pursuit of stability extends far beyond the perimeter of PuckerButt Pepper Company’s property line. “Smokin’ Ed” — his moniker in the hot pepper industry — is also deeply passionate about supporting the stability and well-being of his community. Shortly after moving to Fort Mill in 2001, the Northeastern native perceived something palpably different about his new home. “I met the people who lived here, and it was a different culture than I was used to. People said hello to each other and opened the door and were generally interested in how you were doing,” he says. In light of this, he considers taking care of his community both a personal and corporate responsibility.
“I give back as much as I can every single year. Everything I have is a gift from God, and if there’s a need in our community, I do my best to take care of it.”