Local News

N.C. Farmers May Have 'Hot' Alternative To Tobacco

Posted August 2, 2002

— North Carolina's tobacco crop is getting smaller and smaller. In the search for an alternate crop, farmers may have found a really hot replacement.

N.C. State researcher Doug Sanders researches hot peppers. He said the absolutely hottest that can be found are called the devil's tongue peppers.

The Scoville scale measures heat. A normal green bell pepper rates zero Scoville units. Jalapeno peppers rate 10,000 Scoville units. Cayenne peppers are 20,000 scoville units. Habanero peppers are 350,000 Scoville units. The devil's tongue peppers are 350,000 Scoville units.

The devil's tongue peppers may be some of the hottest in the world, but they may also be a hot new commodity for North Carolina farmers.

"Our ultimate aim is to make it a commercial product where we are growing 3,000 to 8,000 acres," he said.

The compound that makes them hot is called Capsaicin. It has also been found to ease arthritis pain and can be used as an organic pesticide. A pure gram can sell for over $5,000.

Kendall Hill is a local farmer trying to grow the peppers on his farm.

"It will take a lot of acres and that's what we need in North Carolina. As tobacco production decreases, we need something to maybe lessen that blow," Hill said.

Hill believes this is one crop that could be grown by tobacco farmers.

"Most of the farmers in eastern North Carolina that grow tobacco could grow this crop," he said.

Sanders is still looking for a hotter pepper, but he said for now the devil's tongue may be hot enough to help ease the pain felt now by tobacco farmers. The pepper project is funded by the Gold Leaf Foundation as part of the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies and 46 states.

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