Chaos Ensues at ZestFest as Judges Sample Heat Capsaicin

Categories: Food News

A medical emergency this morning at a judging session for the Fiery Food Challenge, the spicy food contest held in conjunction with ZestFest, served as a visceral reminder of how much heat capsaicin extract packs -- and raised questions about whether the chemical should be allowed in competition.

The owner of Chili Pepper Magazine left the Irving Convention Center on a stretcher after sampling a product labeled only as #337, a blind entry in the hot sauce with extract category.

"That's a nightmare in a bottle," said Larry Wampler, a fellow judge and chili cook. "Awful."

Event organizers stressed reactions to hot sauce are highly individual, so eaters with underlying health conditions and macho attitudes are more likely to suffer. But capsaicin extract is so controversial it was briefly banned at the Fiery Food Challenge, when the show was under different ownership. Hot sauce makers are now debating whether a new law adopted by the European Union will prohibit the sale of sauces amped up with extract there.

"They're not going to let us judge extract any more," one judge told another.

Seasoned hot sauce fans describe extract as "not natural." The product of a chemical process, extract is the pure extract of pepper.

"You can't let any fool mess with it," Wampler said.

Still, some eaters love the stuff, and say it's a useful foodstuff when approached with caution.

Unfortunately, judges weren't given much warning, so chaos resulted after the first few judges tasted the sample on their white plastic spoons. Judges jumped up, running for a table set with whipped cream, cheddar cheese and milk. "Drink this down!," Wampler yelled, frantically distributing raw sugar packets. The man who ended up in the hospital made the mistake of drinking a glass of water: Wampler grabbed the glass, handing him a strawberry coated with sugar.

As a judge told me later: "Newbie, you've had some of the hottest shit."

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what a dumb ass.he has to be a democrat


I'd like to report that I'm OK. A real honor to be asked to judge, but I think I'll take a day or too off. :-) Sir McMillen


it's good on a Ritz Cracker. Ummmmmm, that's a good cracker

Chad Lowcock
Chad Lowcock

There is no point. i am a manufacturer myself and use non of that crap. It has no place in food as is the case with ANY chemical. That just what extract is, a chemical. If a manufacturer is not talented enough to make something hot without using it, then they should quit and save everyone the pain of their nastiness.


Tastes like burning!!Being a fiery foods maker myself, extract has it's place in the market, but it needs to be done right. It doesn't sound like it was done right in this case.You should also know how to eat hot food, the after care of a burn like that is very important to surviving the burn.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

I like spicy food, but somebody please tell me what is the point of adding capsaicin extract. It adds no flavor. Pain is not a flavor, nor anything to brag about with respect to food.

Crazy Uncle Jester
Crazy Uncle Jester


It was indeed a pleasure meeting you this weekend. I am happy that you survived your incident at the 2011 Fiery Food Challenge. We submitted "The Jester" with a cautionary statement regarding its Scoville Heat Rating and appropriate use. I am sorry that it was not presented to you with the blind taste test sample.

We are excited to have you as one of our newest fans. Welcome to the PepperHead Fan Club!

I enjoyed this year's competition. I hope that you will send to me a copy of the photo of you and I on the awards podium. I would like to display it in the awards display case in our store.

I look forward to seeing you at The NASFT Fancy Food Show in Washington, DC.

Crazy Uncle Jester
Crazy Uncle Jester


Sample #337, AKA "The Jester", is not an's a concentrate. There is a big difference.

Extracts use organic solvents to isolate the capsaicin found naturally in chile peppers. There will always be some remnant of the solvent in the final product, even if it is in parts per trillion. That is why we don't use extract in any of our products.

Concentration is what the Florida Orange Growers do to ALL NATURAL ORANGE JUICE. We chop, cook, press, vacuum filter, and freeze dry habaneros to remove the pulp and water, thus concentrating the chile to extreme heights.

We do not use chemicals of any kind in our products: no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no additives, no preservatives, no stabilizers, none...ever.

"The Jester" won second place in the 2011 Scovie Awards. There, it was presented properly and sampled according to its merit, as one of the hottest all-natural hot sauces in the world.

We are highly talented and do not intend to quit manufacturing our award-winning products. We have won 42 medals in international competition in the last 36 months, have been featured in newspapers, magazines, and on television across this nation and abroad. We have received numerous celebrity and chef endorsements for our extreme products. "The Jester" is an award-winning hot sauce and will continued to be offered to the public.

As one professional food manufacturer to another, I thought that you should know the facts...If you have any additional questions or comments about my manufacturing processes, feel free to give me a have my number.

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