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Published: Monday, 10/22/2007

One fellow knows he's hot stuff

BY KEN ROSENBAUM
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A friend recently spotted a bag of what he thought were cherry tomatoes in the dim light of his refrigerator. He pulled one out and bit it in half.

As he quickly gobbled cold liquids to extinguish the fire, he realized the error of his ways. Those "cherry tomatoes" were habanero peppers.

I told him with as much machismo as I could muster, he simply isn't used to hot peppers. Preferring the "mild" sauce to the "fire" at Taco Bell shows he has a timid palate. After all, I pointed out, I ask for extra jalapenos on my salads and sprinkle tabasco over my scrambled eggs, proving that I can stand serious heat.

My buddy insisted that I had never tasted such heat.

I assured him I had and waved off his concerns.

He called my bluff and brought in a bag of 10 peppers for me the next day. I scoffed at his warnings.

Recalling my friend's cautionary words that night, I carved a slice of one of the peppers with a sharp knife in the kitchen.

I thought I was being careful, not cowardly, by first taking a small taste instead of a serious bite. The slice was about the thickness of a watch battery and only a little longer. I thought that was quite reasonable to ascertain the validity of my friend's warnings and guarantee my safety. I even passed up the seeds and liquid, because I once heard somewhere that's where the real heat is.

Two minutes later, from the family room, came my wife's voice.

"What's that moaning in there?" she inquired.

My muffled cries of pain were almost incomprehensible as I asked, quite urgently, "Quick, what's the best thing for a burned tongue?"

Now, before you say that I got my comeuppance, remember that I was exercising caution. Apparently, not enough.

The chewing lasted about 10 seconds. That part went well.

The swallowing that followed had nothing memorable going for it.

Those peppers apparently take about 20 seconds to build heat that can melt tastebuds.

The taste?

The only thing I was tasting were the flames in my mouth.

I tried a gallon or so of water. It had no effect.

Then I danced over to the milk, I felt a bit better after some of that but, by then, I was sure my tongue was a festering blister.

I scurried into a bathroom and stuck out my tongue at the mirror. It looked normal.

My wife, sensing my discomfort and realizing what I had done, was convulsed in laughter.

"Tough guy, huh,?" she said. "Didn't your friend warn you?"

"Well, yes," I replied feebly, "but I thought he was exaggerating."

I wasn't going to get any sympathy there.

Next, as the pain began to subside, I took a large ice cube from the freezer, wrapped it partially in a paper towel, and joined my wife at the television, where I sat and watched with her while applying the ice to my tongue.

This went on for about 10 minutes, until the ice melted and my tongue was either numb or the effects of the pepper had worn off.

Then, I used the damp paper towel to blow my nose. Somehow, it had absorbed some of the liquid fire from my tongue through the ice cube.

Have you ever held a match to the sides of your nose?

Internet research after my skin temperature returned to normal levels shows that habanero peppers, grown in the Yucutan and Caribbean, are the hottest consumed by mankind. Their punch, measuring an ingredient called capsaicin in Scoville heat units, hits 300,000. That compares to 5,000 in a jalapeno.

I should have done that research first.

Contact Ken Rosenbaum at: kenrosenbaum@theblade.com or 419-724-6183.



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