Fort Worth man wants to grow hottest pepper ever

FORT WORTH -- Ronnie Walley wants to get his hands on some special pepper seeds.

If he can get just 10 or 15 seeds of the Naga Viper, he can add the newly named world's hottest pepper to the collection of spicy peppers he grows in his back yard.

"There is a demand," said Walley, 61, of Fort Worth, owner and operator of AlabamaJacks Exotic Superhots. "We are always wanting the hottest pepper in the world."

That title had been held until just recently by the bhut jolokia, or "ghost chile," which is grown in India.

But the pepper industry was shaken up this month when it was announced that a British chile farmer, Gerald Fowler, crossbred three of the hottest known peppers -- the bhut jolokia, naga morich and Trinidad scorpion -- to create the Naga Viper.

A regular jalapeño measures 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale, which measures a pepper's heat. The bhut jolokia earned the title of world's hottest pepper at 1,001,304 Scoville units.

The Naga Viper eclipses that, measuring 1,359,000 on the scale, according to researchers at the Warwick University in England.

"I'm sure the pepper is going to be hot," said Walley, who grows about 350 pepper plants in his west Fort Worth back yard. "My favorites are the super-hots. You have to be careful handling them."

Naga Viper

Fowler, of The Chilli Pepper Co., grew the Naga Viper in a greenhouse surrounded by snow in Cumbria, a small county in England.

Fowler posted a note on his website about how he has spent the past two years -- a relatively short time in pepper growth -- working to create this fiery chile, which he describes as "something really special."

"It's painful to eat," Fowler has said. "It numbs your tongue, then burns all the way down. It can last an hour, and you just don't want to talk to anyone or do anything. But it makes you feel great.

"It's hot enough to strip paint."

He believes that the cold England weather may have helped his peppers become even hotter. "When they're grown over here I think they fight back against the harsher climate and produce even more heat," Fowler has said.

On Dec. 3, the Warwick HRI group of British researchers tested the pepper and certified it as the world's hottest chile pepper.

"Our Naga Viper has been tested as the hottest chile in the world, although we are still in the process of ensuring that what we have will be consistently the hottest," Fowler wrote on the website.

Chile concerns

Some people worry that because the Naga Viper is a cross, it might not be able to be replicated. They don't know whether future batches will look the same or have the same heat.

"You're talking about a lot of genetics here," Walley said. "It takes many generations to develop a stable hybrid."

Since the Naga Viper's heat level was reported, questions have flooded into the New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute, which did not do the testing and can't confirm that this pepper is the world's hottest.

"To confirm that the Naga Viper is the world's hottest, a scientific replicated experiment will have to be done," according to a note posted on the institute's website. It said that Fowler, who is a member of the institute, has been asked for a seed sample

"If Mr. Fowler is willing to submit a seed sample, The Chile Pepper Institute would grow the Naga Viper and the bhut jolokia side by side in replicated trials at New Mexico State University in 2011," according to the note.

Next crop

Walley, who's grown hot peppers for more than a dozen years, said he knows it won't be easy to get Naga Viper seeds. He'll have to get them approved by customs first.

But he hopes to get enough to grow perhaps a dozen or so. They would, he said, fit in well with the other peppers he grows and sells, from orange habaneros to the bhut jolokia.

"With this being such a new hybrid, you don't know who they will take after," he said. "Can it be repeated?"

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610