"I don't remember the first time I got overheated, but I do remember the most recent," says Heatonist owner and Hot Ones collaborator Noah Chaimberg, like a soldier recalling his battle scars. The hot-sauce sommelier has tried over 5,000 hot sauces, but certain bottles will always remain traumatic.
"Someone had sent me a limited-edition ghost pepper sauce from Maui that was extremely hot. I poured it all over my already-hot Thai dinner that night. I remember getting up from the table several times during the meal to get air and blow my nose," he said. "Later that night I woke up with a terrible pain at the top of my stomach. I thought, 'Oh god, is this what people have been talking about this whole time? Have I lost my superpower? Was that sauce my Kryptonite?'"
Climbing Scoville Mountain is always a dangerous task, even if it's required of your profession. And while the cult of chileheads continues to inspire hotter and hotter sauces, what is often left unsaid is how the body responds to different types of chile peppers. Sometimes, the pain is sharp off the bat, attacking the tip of the tongue, but quickly dissipating. Other times, the heat sneaks up on you, slowly building in the back of your throat before breaking down your facade of cockiness.
All of this depends on the combinations of capsaicinoids, "the family of compounds that makes chiles hot," explains Chaimberg. "These hit the TRPV1 nerve receptor that transmits the feeling of heat to the brain, and these receptors are located throughout the mouth, nose, eyes, and skin. Different combinations of capsaicinoids hit the receptors in different degrees at different areas, giving us the sensation of the chile heating us up in various places."
So if you're wondering why after eating your favorite hot sauce your shoulders start to ache, or only the sides of your tongue burn, now's the time to listen up. Here, Chaimberg lays out a spectrum of popular chiles, explaining how the heat affects different parts of your body, and offering some advice on hot sauces to pick up to experience the pain first hand.