For all the foodie adventurousness of San Franciscans, one local man took his daring a bit too far when he consumed a burger smothered with a ghost pepper purée — and ended up almost paying for it with his life.
The ghost pepper is considered one of the hottest peppers on the planet. It ranks 1,000,000 units on the Scoville scale, a means of registering a pepper's spiciness, and puts the lowly jalapeño — at just 5,000 units — to shame. The unfortunate incident is believed to be the first near-death experience related to such a pepper, and was therefore covered in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.
"A 47-year-old man presented to the Emergency Department (ED) with severe abdominal and chest pain subsequent to violent retching and vomiting after eating ghost peppers as part of a contest," the article's abstract reads. "Spontaneous esophageal rupture, Boerhaave syndrome, is a rare condition encountered by emergency physicians, with a high mortality rate. This case serves as an important reminder of a potentially life- threatening surgical emergency initially interpreted as discomfort after a large spicy meal."
The Chronicle echoes the Journal and reports the man was participating in some sort of "daredevil eating contest" when he chomped down on the spiciest of meals. Local restaurant Dr. Teeth has been known to serve ghost pepper-topped burgers in the past, but it is unclear exactly where this particular contest took place and the journal article does not say.
“You think you’re gonna die,” David Winsberg, a local farmer who specializes in peppers, told CBS 5 of the ghost pepper's effects. “Your throat starts to close up so I think part of the endorphin rush is when you realize, ‘Whew! I’m alive still! I survived!’ ”
The man reportedly chugged numerous glasses of water after eating the pepper, and began to vomit shortly thereafter. A hole was torn in his esophagus, and his lung collapsed. A breathing tube had to be inserted, and he was hospitalized for 23 days. He left the hospital with the tube still inserted.
We can only assume he'll be avoiding spicy food for some time going forward.
Weirdly, super-spicy burgers remain a thing nationwide, with Zagat publishing this list of the 10 spiciest burgers in the country (they mention one at SF's burger bar that is merely studded with habaneros and jalapenos), and this story of a "Hellfire burger" topped with ghost pepper puree in Iowa, which requires a waiver to eat it.