ISLAND PEPPERS ARE THE HOTTEST IN THE BIZ – UPPER KEYS TABLE

Titus Rennie, founder of Island Peppers Company, gets ready to eat a hot pepper from his garden—torpedoes be damned. Island Peppers Co/CONTRIBUTED

At the April 21 Island Gauntlet Challenge pepper-eating contest hosted by Island Peppers Company, the competition got, well, heated. Contestants had to eat 10 peppers, ranging from Tabascos to habaneros to ghost chilis to scorpions to Brain Strains to the notorious Carolina Reaper peppers. 

As seen on Island Peppers Company’s Instagram livestream, the first person who finished forcing the fiery and spicy vegetables down their gullet won prizes from the company’s line of products. Each contestant had to swallow the peppers down through to the stems. Contestant Elvira, who has the Instagram handle “Hellvira,” proved to be a force to be reckoned with. However, competitors such as “Hairy Potter Chilis” were tough to beat.

Rennie has been carefully nursing the notorious Dragon’s Breath peppers in his garden for years, and recently had two ripen, as seen here. Island Peppers Co/CONTRIBUTED

If you, dear reader, are uneducated about peppers, we can answer a question for you: Yes, there is a pepper called Brain Strain. The pepper names are meant to be intimidating and can usually indicate the heat level. In other words, eating the fiery peppers ain’t for sissies.

And here’s a fun fact: Chili peppers are actually considered to be classified as both fruits and vegetables, though from a diner’s standpoint, they are vegetables. From a botanist’s point of view, they are fruits due to the seeds. Regardless of the names, these veggie fruits generate heat, measured in units called Scovilles. The hottest pepper in the Guiness Book of World Records is the Carolina Reaper, clocking in at 2.2 million Scovilles. To compare, a jalapeno pepper has 10,000 Scovilles.

Tavernier resident Titus Rennie is the owner and founder of the Island Peppers Company, and he is fascinated by the brightly colored culinary jewels. Three years ago, with a fast-paced day job in IT, Rennie was looking for a way to relax. He started planting peppers in his garden and he became obsessed with all the different types.

Rennie smokes his peppers with cherry wood, lining the vegetables first on a tray. An Island Pepper specialty is the banana leaf–wrapped and smoked cayenne pepper, at left. Island Peppers Co/CONTRIBUTED

“I enjoy growing peppers,” he said. “It’s my Zen.” 

So what’s a chili pepper grower to do with his plethora of peppers? Why, create a side hustle called Island Peppers Company, of course. And the company has grown fast. Rennie can now boast a dry spice rub and dehydrated peppers and partnerships that produce Raging Masshole Hot Sauce and hot honey (made with Keys’ Meads brewery’s honey line) as among his offerings.

The proof is in the pudding, served piping hot. The company’s Insta has almost 6,000 followers and counting, with one fan saying she was going to get a tattoo of one of the posted pepper photos, and the Raging Masshole sauce has gotten so popular that the Wahlberg restaurant chain bought a few bottles to put on their burgers.

Island Peppers Company’s line of products and partnerships include honey, spice and “Raging Masshole” hot sauce (not for sissies). Island Peppers Co/CONTRIBUTED

Meanwhile, back at the contest, Hellvira’s face was flushed red and sweaty. Sixty-one minutes in, she was huffing and puffing after swallowing nine peppers, taking a moment every now and then to wipe her nose. The final pepper: Dragon’s Breath, which is rumored to one day beat the Carolina Reaper as the hottest pepper in the Guiness Records. Taking a beat to shout, “‘Eye of the Tiger!’” and thrust her arms in triumph, she swallowed the 10th fiery pepper down whole. Viewers watched quietly as she took deep breaths to control her panting. She looked up and smiled in victory. Hellvira had run the Gauntlet. 

“This girl is amazing,” said Rennie in admiration. “She killed it.”

For more info on Island Peppers Company’s products and for the next Gauntlet Challenge, go to islandpeppers.net or hit up Island Peppers on its Instagram or Facebook pages.

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.