The pepper community has been buzzing with news of the HP22B / Carolina Reaper. Ed Currie graciously shared his time with me and answered some questions about his background, growing operations and the soon to be very popular HP22B / Carolina Reaper pepper. Enjoy.
PepperSeed: How (and when) did you get started growing peppers?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: In the early eighties, 81-82, I started doing research on cancer and heart disease in college and discovered that the equatorial indigenous populations have extremely low indices of both. All around the world they have two things in common, rotting food due to the lack of electricity, heat, and humidity and peppers to mask the fact that the food is rotting. We know that the food borne bacterium will kill you, so I figured it must be the peppers. I went to a restaurant called the West/East and asked for the hottest viet dish they had and got hooked. I asked for seeds and they gave me a plant, told me it was a highland bird pepper. I still grow a new one every couple of years.
PepperSeed: Are you still involved in the research aspect of peppers / cancer / heart disease?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: Yes, very much so. I am working with researchers here in the Carolinas. We are supplying the higher scoville peppers and they are using emulsified product for testing. They are finding 4 major cancers are reacting favorably. I am living proof, since incorporating peppers into all of my meals, I am down almost 100 lbs and my doctor says I’ve never had better numbers or been healthier. No more cancers and the heart is great.
PepperSeed: 30 years of pepper growing, wow. In terms of growing peppers what would say are some of the most important things you have learned over that time and how has your growing operation changed?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: Really, what amazes me is that simplicity seems to produce the best product. I’ve gotten to the point in the past where I used thousands of dollars in equipment and supplies to sprout, heat, grow, protect, measure, feed, blah blah blah blah,, blah, blah, great huge greenhouses with fans and heat, tractors, workers, blah only to find out that the plants I did not attend to in the pots form last year did better every time. Ten years ago, I built simple greenhouses out of house renovation debris. I used them to breed peppers, with simple shop lights and a simple heater. quickly out to cold-frames, with trashcan radiant heaters, everything I use is either someone else’s trash, or discarded products from nurseries. I was able to raise enough seedlings to grow 1 acre, then 3, then 5, now 30 all out of a yard. We are planning for 100 acres next year, all recycled or used equipment will be used. The only new thing is going to be a well and pump.
PepperSeed: Wow 100 acres of peppers! How many pounds of peppers do you estimate that much acreage will produce? With that kind of scale I imagine you have a specific purpose or purposes in mind for your pods, what happens to the peppers you grow?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: Well, we have a lot of plans as far as the peppers go. It’s very hard to estimate how many pounds the yield will be. Last year we had huge hail damage, so I had to replant in June and didn’t really start harvesting until Sept. This year, my goal is to get 78000 mature plants and harvest the majority if them from June until Dec. Dependent upon the variety of HP, we harvested 40-100 pods, 3 times, so I am hoping to double that yield. We are planning to dedicate 20 % for seed/pod sales, 20% for the medical research we’ve obligated ourselves to, 20 % towards our perishable products , and the remainder to pepper mash for others. Now, between my team, the local university, my customers, and the media, we might make a dent in those numbers, making videos and contests and such, but not much.
PepperSeed: How is this year’s pepper crop looking? Any surprises?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: We have been harvesting from 7 of the 9 fields I use and all of the greenhouses. The crop is looking great. We have been getting anywhere between 20-30 baskets of HP pods a week, as well as other varieties. Some of the new peppers and older strains are reproducing and our pest ( birds, bugs, staff, lol) problems are @ 10 %. We had issues with the government and electric company about getting the wells in on the other two fields, but those are finally planted and we have at least 60,000 plants in the ground between the two. We’re going to try something interesting and see if we can keep them alive and producing all winter. The biggest surprise this year is how tall they are getting. The plants I overwintered in a test field have been trimmed down from 8-12 ft to 4 ft twice already and are back up that high again. They’re falling over. What a blessing that is.
PepperSeed: I’ve noticed an uptick in people coming to ThePepperSeed looking for information about the hp22b. I’ve tried to put some decent info together but had to take bits and pieces from various places. I would love to hear more from you about this pepper; where did the parent seed/plant come from, how long have you been growing it, does it appear to be stable and how did you come up with the name?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: I would love to share where I got the parents from. A lot of well respected members of the chilehead community (all have been involved for 15 or more years) have reached out and advised me against sharing the info, citing others will try to do the same, steal, or argue. I will say that they are Asian/Sub-Asian descent and both are HOT. Not trying to be all mysterious, I understand all the naysayers out there, but we are having tests done to squash the 7 pot/pod rumor mill. I have been growing most of the strains for 5-8 years, but there are some newer ones. I’ve also applied the process to other know peppers and have had great results, those plants are 3-5 year. I grow the parents of each strain in separate greenhouses and we are able to get multiple generations per year. We are showing @ 80 % pod stability on almost all, so, by my standards they are stable. If you look at the blogs and facebook pages, there are literally hundreds of different looking peppers being called morugas, butch T’s, 7 pot/pod whatever’s. We are looking for stability and commonality in pods. One hot sauce maker told me he ordered 150,000 moruga seeds, knowing that only @ 5% would be “true”. That’s horrible. The coding is simple, I am a man of faith, I have a set of morals and values that I try to follow to the best of my ability, part of that is giving all the Honor and Glory to the God of my understanding. When I restarted this research @ 12 years ago, the pots were simply labeled P for pepper, T for tomatoes, B for broccoli , A for Anise, and G for garlic. These are the veggies I am studying. When, 8 years ago, we had two years of pod reproduction and the peppers was making everyone who tried it vomit or get high, I changed it to HP ( Higher Power) to acknowledge the gift from God. There were about 6 or 8 of us there when I named this one HP22B. The 22 is for the pot number, B was the variety denoting shape/size/color/ and what I’ve come to find out is called a stinger. It’s the first one we ever tested.
PepperSeed: I’ve read that you have been using what I consider some pretty solid testing methodology. How have you gone about having the hp22b peppers tested for heat?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: We are using HPLC for testing Scoville and a huge magnet thing a ma bob
(if you wait till I get to the college, I’ll get you the real name). I think what makes our testing different from others, is that we do the following: first we freeze dry a random sampling of peppers ( @ 5-10 lbs). We use whole peppers ( the stem, the cap, and the fruit) as opposed to most of the prior research, that only uses the fruit. My/our reasoning is that in other food testing’s we have found, the standard in ACOA is the WHOLE, not just the part that will give the best results. It seemed like bad science to us to take out the part of the pepper that had little or no capsaicinoids. After crushing/grinding the dried pods, a random sample of that is taken and run thru the HPLC. We repeat this sample a number of times and get a statistical average, that is the info we use. The testing is in its 5th year now and we’ve tested each generation or have freeze dried pods ready for testing ( the last two years worth). Fall of 2010 we achieved an average of 1,474,000 and we have not released the official data on 2011 and 2012 that we have yet. I would like to get everything done for each year before doing so. Let me say, there are mentors I trust in the chile community, have been advising me to release the data on the high readings and some individual peppers we did, we have reference samples available for retesting also, but I am in prayer as to if we should do this or not. I really do not want to get into a prideful battle with a few egos ( notice please I did not say egomaniacs, my ego can swell a great as anyone’s) over who’s is bigger. We’ll let science be science and hopefully we achieve the goal of the project.
PepperSeed: That’s awesome Ed. I really enjoyed learning more about your background, growing operations and the HP22B / Carolina Reaper. Thank you for taking the time to share with myself and my readers. Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
Smokin’ Ed Currie: Please also know that I have brought a team together, to do the things I am too busy to do. My wife and I would like to get the money we’ve got into it back, and we would like to fund endowments and community projects if possible, but that is all a result of God’s plan, not mine. I could have never imagined the things that have happened, the people who I have met and partnered with, or the friendships that have developed in my wildest dreams. I take no credit for any of this, it is a GIFT, pure and simple.
Thanks again Ed for your time and dedication to all things pepper. Anyone wishing to reach Ed should visit http://puckerbuttpeppercompany.com.