San Diego pepper enthusiast eats 44 Carolina Reapers, the world’s hottest chilis

The Guinness World Record holder for the greatest number of Carolina Reapers in one minute attempted to eat 123 chilis


San Diego is experiencing a heatwave this week, and so are the taste buds of Greg Foster, who ate dozens of the world’s hottest chilis in Seaport Village on Oct. 3.

The Rancho Peñasquitos resident and Inferno Farms Hot Sauce Company founder was attempting to eat 123 Carolina Reapers to take the top spot in the League of Fire among internationally ranked chili eaters.

But after eating 44 chilis, grown locally on his farm, the 6-foot-5-inch tall Foster was brought down to his knees in a fit of expletives and tears before throwing in the towel — and throwing up the contents of his stomach in the privacy of a pop-up tent.

Measured at 1.4 million to 2.2 million Scoville heat units — the scale used to measure chili pungency — Carolina Reapers are the world’s hottest pepper, according to Chili Pepper Madness. By comparison, a jalapeño only has 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville heat units, according to Colorado State University. That makes the mildest Carolina Reaper 140 times hotter than the spiciest jalapeño.

Jason Robey, co-owner of the company that bottles Foster’s hot sauce, was one of four judges asked to witness the event. He said eating a Carolina Reaper is akin to eating mace or being pepper sprayed in the mouth.

“It attacks your mouth in the same way pepper spray does your eyes and your face,” Robey said. “The tricky thing about it is it takes a full two minutes, upwards of three sometimes, to really fully hit you.”

If people new to eating Reapers don’t wait long enough between bites, Robey said they might consume too much and end up having a painful experience.

But Foster isn’t new to eating large quantities of spicy peppers.

He started competitive chili eating when his friend, Carolina Reaper inventor Ed Currie, peer pressured him into it. In 2016, he won his second ever contest, eating 120 grams of Carolina Reapers in one minute to beat eight people at the Arizona Hot Sauce Expo. That event earned him the Guinness World Record, according to the organization’s website.

“After getting the record, it was really about helping the promoters put on a good show and just trying to beat my own record,” Foster said. “I’m really just doing it for fun, that’s what today was all about. It would have been nice to get more than what I did, but it’s really more for entertainment.”

If Foster’s attempt is approved by the league, the 282 grams of chilis he ate will move him from sixth to fourth place. Currently at the top of the League of Fire’s Reaper Challenge for most Carolina Reapers eaten in one sitting is Las Vegas resident Dustin Johnson, who ate 122 peppers at a weight of 706 grams, according to the league’s website.

Julia Foster, Greg’s wife of 17 years, said he has always liked spicy food, but his passion for it bloomed about a decade ago when his brother sent him pepper seeds to grow in a community garden. A love for spicy foods is one hobby the couple doesn’t share.

“I’m a total wimp, but I’m getting better, but there’s several of his sauces I still haven’t even tried,” she said. “What I love is he’s a foodie, he doesn’t just do it because it’s ‘cool’ to eat a lot of peppers, he really loves food, he loves flavor.”

Greg Foster said he routinely eats a pepper a day when they’re in season, replacing fresh peppers for hot sauces and tinctures from January to August when fresh chilis aren’t as readily available. He ramps up his pepper eating the week before contests and eats bananas the morning of to prepare.

“If you were to do it on an empty stomach, you would immediately start to cramp, which is probably the closest thing a man could come to child birth,” he said.

After his attempt, he chugged water and milk to make it easier to purge the peppers out, followed by more milk, water and ice cream. That cuts recovery time from days to 45 minutes. Although he fell short of his goal last month, Foster said listening to one’s stomach is vital.

“I thought I had a good pace there, and your body just tells you differently. What I’ve learned throughout eating peppers like this is don’t ignore what your body’s telling you,” he said.

A version of this story was first published in The San Diego Union-Tribune online on Oct. 3, 2020 and in print on Oct. 4, 2020. 

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