Intellectually I understand the consumption and love of hot chili peppers. I have read that the ingredient responsible for a pepper's heat, capsaicin, will release endorphins, explaining the euphoria that many pepperheads have attributed to the consumption of chills. And I imagine like any drug, one can develop a tolerance and desire for a stronger drug.
But at a gut level, I can not understand how people actually enjoy peppers so hot that they can entirely numb one's mouth and lips or require special handling. There are cases where unchewed chilis have been known to perforate the bowel.
There is a Scoville scale that rates the hotness of peppers by the level of capsacicin (based on parts per million) from 0 to 15,000,000 units (pure capsaicin). Habanero peppers are extremely hot and have a Scoville rating of 100,000 to 580,000 units (Red Savina Habanero).
In 2006 the Ghost Pepper (Naga Jolokia or Bhut Jolokia) was discovered in India. Testing revealed a Scoville rating of over 1,000,000 units making it the hottest chili pepper in the world.
This is fascinating but does any one need a chili pepper three times as strong as the average Habanero? In a country that loves to quantify and where bigger is better, I suppose it would be a badge of honor to have this chili in your curriculum vitae ...
Photo Note: This photo was taken at the Union Square Greenmarket at the Eckerton Hill Farm produce stand - they always have a tremendous array of chili peppers. See more Union Square Greenmarket links in my posting on Heirloom tomatoes.