Jalapenos & The Scoville Scale – Capsaicin Escapades

After college I worked for a brief time at a local pizza joint, delivering. It wasn’t quite what I expected when I took out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, but it paid and was pretty laid back. My manager was, what seemed at the time, an older fellow. He was easy to get along with and had no illusions that he would someday become CEO, so he made the pizzas, ordered the supplies and tried to enjoy a fairly lazy gig. He didn’t ask much from me except to deliver without a lot of extra miles or delays and to occasionally fold some boxes.


The owner, Phil, on the other hand, was walking blood pressure. Everything enraged him. He reminded me of former NFL coach, Mike Ditka in both physical appearance and attitude. My hope was to get out of the store as fast as possible anytime he came poking around. We didn’t see Phil, much. He lived in the next town over, where he had several stores.

One day, however, our store had an issue with the pipes. So Phil wanted to meet the plumber on location to discuss options. My manager was alerted that both Phil and the plumber would arrive that afternoon. I had no idea what was in store.

“Do you like spicy food?” my manager asked me?

“Sure. You’ve seen me put jalapeños on my pizzas.” I bragged, not know where his question was going.

“Have you ever heard of habaneros?” he queried, figuring I hadn’t.

“Um, no. Should I have?” I answered.

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He went on to tell me he grew them fresh in his garden and they put jalapeños to shame. Not believing his affable story I asked to try them. He gave me a piece the size of beebee. I put the tiny chunk in my mouth and immediately began huffing and fanning my tongue as if I had swallowed lava. I ran to the cooler and chugged a can of Sprite as if I were trying to put out a fire. My face turned red and tears ran down my cheeks. I began to hiccup. At first the hiccups were so violent I thought they might damage my insides. They relented, eventually, and I returned to an acceptable state. Keep in mind, this piece of habanero was a speck.   

My manager was trying to contain his smirk.  “Believe me now?” he asked, knowing full well I was a convert. Upon watching my historyonics, he devised a plan ill fitted for a more ambitious manager.

“Wanna have some fun?” he asked, knowing I was a willing accomplice. I nodded and he began slicing his torturous peppers into pieces that resembled the jalapeños. Then he made a pizza with them dominating the top. He set the pizza, untouched, on the table where the crew would normally snack on them. When Phil arrived the manager told Phil he might not want to try the pizza. It was very spicy.

habanero-scaleThis was the challenge Phil needed to immediately grab a slice and begin woofing it down. My manager pretended to try and stop him. “Careful Phil. That’s really spicy!”  

Phil dismissed him in his usual manner and just as he began to chew on a large bite, the plumber walked through the door. He began to ask Phil where the issue was, but Phil’s head was on fire. He darted for the pop cooler and began to swig. He was trying to keep his composure and look nonchalant, but it was impossible with his level of ingested capsaicin. As Phil tried to answer the plumber’s questions, snot ran out of his nose and tears seem to spray from his tear ducts. Each attempt to coolly talk to the plumber was thwarted by body convulsions and groans.

My manager and I tried to look away. I was desperate for a run. I needed to flee the crime scene. Unfortunately, there was nothing warranting my escape.

Normally I’m not schadenfroh, but watching Phil’s ego deal with this spicy assault tickled my inner child in a way that caused me to snort-laugh. This wasn’t good for my pizza driving career. Phil always looked at me after that as if had cuckolded him. His machismo, though, wouldn’t allow him to ever bring it up. If he accused me or my manager of anything it would be a confession that he couldn’t handle his spice. That ultimately saved our bacon.

This post was contributed by Jerry Mooney.

*Capsaicin information provided by Dr. Joel Mortensen of Pathology at the University of Cincinnati, Laboratory Science and Dr. Jonathan Mortensen

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