Trending
MOST READ
Lt. Governor Race: the \'Luchadora\' vs. the Tea Party radio host

Lt. Governor Race: the 'Luchadora' vs. the Tea Party radio host

News: A few Saturdays ago, I spent several hours hanging around a Texas Realtors Association conference in San Antonio, trying to catch state Sen. Dan Patrick... By Alexa Garcia-Ditta 9/17/2014
Best Brunch

Best Brunch

Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
Beaches Be Trippin\': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Beaches Be Trippin': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Arts & Culture: Let’s face it, most of us Lone Stars view the Texas coast as a poor man’s Waikiki. Hell, maybe just a poor man’s Panama Beach — only to be used... By Callie Enlow 7/10/2013
Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy Disappear into ‘Eleanor Rigby’

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy Disappear into ‘Eleanor Rigby’

Screens: “If you’re going to start, you might as well start big,” an ambitious person once said. Ned Benson must have been paying attention, because for his first... By Cameron Meier 9/17/2014
The Permanent Gangsta Status of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy

The Permanent Gangsta Status of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy

Music: Prodigy, better known to ’90s rap aficionados as the prodigious half of Queensbridge duo Mobb Deep, has made a successful career operating on... By James Courtney 9/17/2014
Calendar

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Food & Drink

How the quest for fire led me to the punishing Four Horsemen

Photo: , License: N/A

the author’s father during a ghost pepper encounter.

Photo: Photos by Brandon R. Reynolds, License: N/A

Photos by Brandon R. Reynolds

Bhut jolokia, sweat, and tears


More than 6,000 years ago, fledgling civilizations from Peru to the Bahamas were cultivating chili plants alongside such staples as maize and yam. And while those ancient peoples couldn’t know that research conducted millennia later would suggest that the chemical that makes chilis spicy can protect against cancer and heart disease, treat ulcers and burn calories, they knew that it made yam stew taste a lot better. The chilis, for their part, had no idea what was going on; they’d evolved the chemical capsaicin as a defense against both nasty microbes and hungry mammals, while wisely leaving birds unaffected so they could spread the seeds hither and yon. Humans ate them too, precisely for that burning effect -- though humans did a lot of things that didn’t make any sense to nature.

But humans did spread the chili across the world (the chili perhaps playing an important part in the survival of the species) and this spread accompanied the great evolution of human civilization across thousands of miles and thousands of years, and which culminates, some may say, at Chunky’s Burgers, with my own father trying not to regurgitate a burger into a tin bucket brought out for that very purpose.

The relationship with pain is a personal one. Like many addictions, it both grows and consumes. After my father first introduced me to hot foods, searching out my upper limit of tolerance became an unstated goal. After a while I outgrew jalapeños. Then I blew past serranos and habaneros. Then came the ghost.

In 2007 the Indian-grown bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost pepper, was named the world’s hottest chili. Since then, they’ve been popping up all over. Other chilis have since been named hotter, but these are inconsistently so; the ghost is still enjoying its supremacy of the palate. For comparison: the ghost measures about one million Scoville Heat Units, 250 times hotter than a jalapeño. And demand has brought it, for better or worse, into our grasp.

That San Antonio may well be home to the hottest burger on the planet is itself a sort of natural selection process. People eat spicy here; that means, as Chunky’s owner Joey Prado discovered after opening in 2004, there’s an entire culture here seeking its pain threshold.

“We had customers coming in, they want it spicy, they wanted serrano peppers, they wanted something hotter than jalapeños,” he said. “And every time I’d come up with something. There’s always somebody that would say, ‘That all you got?’”

Prado’s a bit of a trickster, so when he caught wind of the ghost pepper, he immediately sought out a distributor. “You know what?” he remembers thinking at the time, “Let’s shut these guys up.”

Simply adding a pepper the Indian military is using against terrorists and criminals wasn’t enough, however. The burger Prado devised includes chopped jalapeños and serranos, plus a habanero salsa, along with several of the ghosts. “And we all tried it, and we all ran in separate directions, thinking, ‘Let them eat that!’”

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus