NORFOLK, Neb. — Brandon Hatley hasn’t always liked hot food.

In fact, he’d go as far as to say he once hated it.

But that was before his wife got pregnant with their daughter.

“You know how they say when a woman gets pregnant she develops a craving for new foods?” Hatley said. “Well, it was weird because I actually developed a craving for hot food.”

It started with jalapeños — which he could never eat before but began to put on just about everything. Then he gradually ventured into hotter and hotter peppers.

The cravings resulted in him deciding he wanted to try growing peppers of his own.

And that’s when he discovered the Carolina Reaper.

Small, gnarled and red, it holds the title of world’s hottest pepper in the Guinness Book of World Records.

To Hatley, it was a joke to buy these particular seeds.

“I wanted to grow a few peppers that I like and I thought, ‘While I’m at it, let’s see if I can grow the world’s hottest pepper,’ ” he said.

Peppers are measured on the Scoville scale. So to give you an idea of how hot these peppers are, the Carolina Reaper, on average, measures between 1.5 million and 2.2 million Scoville heat units. Comparatively, a jalapeño is between 8,000 and 10,000.

A cross between a Ghost pepper and red habanero, the Carolina Reaper is bred for heat. Technically, you’re not even supposed to handle the pepper without wearing rubber gloves, especially if you’re slicing into it because you wouldn’t want to accidentally transfer the heat from its oil to, say, your eyes.

Hatley’s only tried the Carolina Reaper once and described the experience as “instant pain and instant regret.”

So he hasn’t developed a taste for it as he has other peppers.

“I knew they were hot; I had no idea they were that hot,” Hatley told the Norfolk Daily News . “I didn’t eat a ripe one even. I ate a green one that fell off a plant. So me and my neighbor guy, we had a beer and cut a tiny, tiny piece off and it was instant mouth and throat pain for 45 minutes.”

Even so, Hatley’s had plenty of interest in his peppers.

His four Carolina Reaper plants have had above-average yields. Hatley credits the attention he’s paid them.

“I literally docked these peppers and fed these peppers and treated them like my babies,” he said. “… So that was my biggest thing, just learning how to grow something. Now that I’ve figured it out, the results have been outstanding.”

Hatley had never grown anything before — not even a flower — so when he started in February growing peppers in red Solo Cups under grow lamps, it took research.

What Hatley’s found particularly for Carolina Reapers is that they like heat and don’t like a lot of water, making them more difficult to grow in Nebraska.

He waters the peppers only once every seven days, with recent rains almost killing his plants.

Milder weather hasn’t worked in his favor, either.

“It has been a challenge this last month because it hasn’t been real warm,” Hatley said. “Eighty degrees, that’s really still not enough. Ever since we hit this cooler period of say 70-80 degrees, I stopped ripening plants on the Reapers. Everything else is growing spectacular, but these just really slowed down.”

Even so, as he moved them into buckets in the backyard of his Norfolk home, his Reaper plants still have 40 to 50 peppers unharvested, whereas one of these plants typically produces between 20 to 30 peppers.

With that abundance, and no intention of eating all the peppers himself, Hatley decided to share. He has had about 40 people contact him for Carolina Reapers after posting about them on Facebook.

“I think a lot of it is just the hype online and everyone sees all those Carolina Reaper challenges and thinks, ‘Oh, I got to be a part of this,’ ” Hatley said. “It’ll die down over time. But there are some of my buyers who truly do like the flavor of them.”

Now he’s not exactly sure what they’re using Carolina Reapers in given their intense heat, but he’s heard they can be used in a jam. A customer also told him one pepper can heat 30 pints of salsa.

Growing peppers has turned into a hobby for Hatley, and it’s something his two sons enjoy, he said.

Hatley has more than a dozen plants growing about seven different varieties of peppers. With his family moving to Hadar, he’s already aiming to have close to 60 plants next year.

If he continues to have good yields, he might even try to participate in Norfolk’s farmers market.

“I don’t really know why I enjoy it,” Hatley said. “I think it’s just seeing it come to life from a seed really. I’ve never done it so I just wanted to see if I could. Everyone likes new challenges.”


Information from: Norfolk Daily News, http://www.norfolkdailynews.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Norfolk Daily News.

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ERIN BELL
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