Lindsey Treffry | The Argonaut
Ted Barrus calls himself a “custodial engineer,” but the University of Idaho janitor has another name too — Ted the Fire Breathing Idiot.
Barrus is a pepper-eating sensation with nearly 70,000 YouTube viewers.
Barrus challenges friends and UI faculty to eat the hottest peppers sent to him from around the world, including the Naga Viper pepper, the Bhut Jolokia chili pepper — commonly called the ghost pepper — and the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper. Barrus grows and eats them himself too.
“I had my friends eating them, but I was immediately addicted,” Barrus said. “I didn’t like spicy food, but (I found) it was a massive endorphin rush.”
Barrus said people compare eating such peppers to being in combat.
“To fight off the pain … it’s indescribable,” Barrus said.
Barrus’ interest in pepper-eating spurred from watching YouTube videos of Darth Naga, a world famous pepper-eater from England, who works with a company called The Chile Foundry. Barrus said the sole purpose of his pepper-eating videos is to make people laugh.
“And I’m trying to get on Tosh.0,” Barrus said.
His attempt to get on the show included dressing and talking like a hillbilly, with dark-rimmed glasses, a mullet wig and blacked-out teeth as he consumed a chocolate ghost pepper, a yellow 7-pot pepper, ghost pepper cashew brittle, a dried Scotch Bonnet, a red Trinidad Scorpion and a spoonful of Ten Minute Burn hot sauce, all followed by a stick of butter.
While the names of the peppers may not sound threatening, the heat of the peppers can be described in Scoville units. While jalapeno peppers range from 3,500 to 8,000 units and habaneros range from 100 to 350 thousand units, a Trinidad Scorpion Butch T — which holds the world record for hottest pepper — ranges from 1.1 to 1.5 million Scoville units.
When consuming peppers this hot, Barrus said his body reacts in different stages.
“It burns in different places of your mouth,” he said. “The side of your cheeks, your tongue, (your) throat. It’s like a hot piece of charcoal stuck in your throat … You start to forget about life in general because it feels like a blow torch in your throat.”
He said the burn takes a long time to build and some burns build for up to 10 minutes.
He said there is no chest burn, but 15 to 20 minutes after the pepper reaches his stomach it feels like a red, hot poker behind his belly button. From there, he said post-digestion is what he calls the “ring of sting” and often has to throw up to get rid of the pain.
“It’s still gonna hurt the next day,” Barrus said.
Barrus said these reactions in the body occur due to human capsaicin receptors.
“It’s all in your mind,” he said. “It’s just dealing with the physical pain. It’s mind over matter.”
Barrus said he has attempted to challenge UI students, but most of them “chicken out.” His sole pepper-eating companions include friends and coworkers.
Although UI Biological Sciences Research Associate, Karen Miller, has never attempted a pepper challenge, she said she tried one of Barrus’s candied chilies.
“I thought, ‘Okay, this is hot,’ so I didn’t keep it in my mouth,” Miller said. “I can’t imagine myself doing that.”
Among Barrus’s fellow pepper-eaters is another UI janitor, dubbed Naga Bob on Barrus’ YouTube channel, who has participated in numerous pepper challenges.
“We became friends through work,” Bob said. “I’d had some pretty hot food before, but not to that level. I’d had a Scotch bonnet … but I hadn’t heard of a ghost pepper.”
Bob is featured in Barrus’ channel and has consumed a Death pepper and a Trinidad Scorpion 7-Pot Brain Strain among others.
“It feels like fire ants on the tongue,” Bob said. “It’s like you put your tongue on an electric fence.”
Barrus has been consuming hot peppers for two years and said he realized although there are health benefits to eating peppers, his body’s reaction proves that this hobby should not be long-lived.
“I have good life insurance,” Barrus said.
To partake in Barrus’ challenge or to watch his pepper-eating videos, visit youtube.com/user/tedbarrus or email him at email@example.com.
As seen in Dec. 2 issue of The Argonaut.