When Central Michigan University alumnus Ed Currie began researching peppers for their medical and healing benefits, the idea of holding a Guinness World Record had not entered his mind.
As the product of a disease-ridden family and the fast-and-loose culture of the ’70s and ’80s, Currie was determined to find a connection between lifestyle choices and the properties of peppers with the likelihood of contracting illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
This endeavor led him down a road of experimentation and success that culminated in his ownership of the world’s hottest pepper to date.
An entrepreneur from the beginning, Currie began his collegiate career as a vagabond of sorts, taking odd jobs where he could, valuing his social life over academics as a general rule.
“I bounced from school to school back in the ’80s,” Currie said. “When I actually got to Central, I began to feel at home.”
When he arrived at CMU in 1984, Currie majored in economics while holding several jobs around town including Blackstone Bar in downtown Mount Pleasant, working sporting events and campus dining.
Always finding time for fun, Currie was a member of Greek Life at CMU and did his best to stay plugged in to the social aspects of campus.
“Campus life at Central was the best out of all the other schools I went to,” Currie said.
Former roommate Mark Butcher of Mount Pleasant met Currie through a mutual friend at Mid-Michigan Community College in the late ’80s. He described Currie as friendly, personable and someone bound to accomplish whatever he put his mind to.
“He was actually one of the nicest guys you could meet,” Butcher said. “It didn’t matter what you did or who you were, he would be friends with you. He could make friends with almost anybody.”
Since losing touch after their college days, Butcher had been seeking to catch up with Currie for some time when he heard of his Guinness World Record award. While initially shocked, Butcher said it was not surprising that Currie would be met with great success.
It was during his collegiate career that Currie’s fascination with peppers first began. Determined to find an alternative solution to diseases such as cancer and heart disease, he began to study the properties and health benefits of peppers with vigor.
Currie noted during his studies that populations in indigenous areas boasted relatively low cases of disease, and the common denominator throughout all of them was the consumption of particularly spicy peppers.
The fire grows
After graduation, Currie immediately entered the financial industry, making extra money on the side by owning various restaurants and bars. Eventually he put his economics degree to use at First Union Bank in South Carolina, where he moved to in 2001.
By this time, Currie had accumulated numerous pepper specimens, working on his research in every spare moment he had.
“I had quite a collection of peppers from around the world,” Currie said. “I’d come home and I’d work until 11 or 12 at night doing peppers.”
Finally, after 33 years of devotion to his hobby, Currie and his wife Linda decided it was time to make the pepper business his full-time career. By selling his product through the PuckerButt Pepper Company, Currie was able to support his livelihood while continuing his efforts with medical research.
It was around this time in his life when Currie realized his modifications to the peppers in the name of good health were actually making them astoundingly hot and spicy. The notion of creating the world’s hottest pepper was now a conceivable reality.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” Currie said. “We were raising peppers to see if we could get health benefits out of it.”
Sizzling with success
On Nov. 14, Currie received an email from Guinness that would change his life forever.
“I thought to myself ‘Oh God, what did I do this time,’” Currie said. “I dropped to my knees. Literally, I was sobbing with joy.”
Currie had just been informed he was the new owner of the hottest pepper in the world, his very own “Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper.”
According to an article released by the Associated Press, the heat of the pepper was measured in Scoville Heat Units, or SHU. The article notes that Currie’s winning batch of peppers comes in at a combined measurement of almost 1.57 million (1,569,300) SHU, and the average pepper spray used by law enforcement measures at about 2 million.
“The heat of Currie’s peppers was certified by students at Winthrop University who test food as part of their undergraduate classes,” the article states.
Currie, who is now being sought after around the world for interviews in the wake of his fame, said he has at least 19 other peppers already created that are even hotter than his record-winning Carolina Reaper, and that he plans to unveil the new world’s hottest pepper sometime next year.
While attaching the Guinness name to his products has not come cheaply, Currie’s national recognition has allowed him to begin expanding his business beyond the confines of South Carolina.
“We’re going to be in Kroger’s this coming year,” Currie said.
This will be the first of many expansions into national food retail chains. Additionally, Currie revealed plans to build a new processing facility and farm, which combined will employ upwards of 150 people in the local area.
Currie dedicates his success to his deep commitment to faith, a lifestyle change after his more wild college days that has allowed him to better embrace the opportunities life brought his way.
“Every single morning what I do is get down on my knees and ask God for his direction,” Currie said. ”and usually when I do that it turns out to be a really good day.”
Currie plans to donate to the Alumni Association of his alma mater, CMU. With the giant success of his pepper business, Currie and his wife have also been able to adopt two young children, and he continues his work in potential health benefits found in peppers.
“It’s more about the life stories than it is about the business,” Currie said.