I Chugged Some of The World’s Hottest Hot Sauce, and a GE Thermal Camera Captured It
So here’s the deal: GE makes super materials capable of containing the heat from the hottest-burning engines in history. We thought, “Okay, what can we do to celebrate all that hotness?” The answer was our 10³² K hot sauce, developed with GE and High River Sauces -- named after the theoretical temperature at which the rules of physics no longer apply -- and made from the hottest and second-hottest peppers in the world, the Carolina Reaper (1.6 million Scoville units) and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (1.2 million).
At first, we tested the success of our efforts by just putting the stuff in our mouth. But then GE suggested something more advanced: a visit to their ultra-rad Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY, to try this stuff on thermal camera and record the havoc it wreaks.
The GE Global Research Center is a sprawling, high-tech, high-security campus where they develop jet engine technology, robotics, neural probes, and all sorts of futuristic technology, and… watch writers eat hot sauce, plus ice cream and donuts, for science.
I was put in the capable, slightly incredulous hands of the engineers of the non-destructive evaluations lab, Bryon Knight and Waseem Faidi. On the regular, they use thermal cameras to analyze jet engine parts for heat conduction, and then use this data to detect flaws in the part. So it was fair to say that they were more than qualified for this.
The NDE lab is filled with infrared cameras, ranging from high-end fixed cameras that cost roughly a hundred grand, to smartphone attachments that give a grainy thermal image. Calling these both “thermal cameras” is like saying the Hubble telescope works the same way as a disposable wedding camera, but all thermal cameras work off the same principle: anything hot produces infrared light. This light can’t be seen by humans (but can be seen by snakes, which is terrifying), but can be recorded on cameras to produce an image of where heat is coming from. For our purposes, we went with a FLIR 640 thermal camera (MSRP: $29,000...you know, mid-range).
Before we got to the main event, Bryon tested out the camera by experimenting with different-temperature foods. We packed a bunch of ice into my mouth, and watched as the heat drained from my jaw and my tongue turned blue on-screen, and he put an ice cube on my face until it looked like a gruesome gunshot wound. Nice guy though! I ate a room-temperature donut on camera to use as a control (also, I was hungry), before gargling some steaming-hot coffee -- which looked like glowing radioactive waste, and allowed me to blow puffs of steam around. Whoever said not to play with your food obviously didn’t have a state-of-the-art infrared camera on hand.
The coffee seemed mildly uncomfortable until I remembered that I was about to chug hot sauce. Not because GE insisted on “chugging” -- I’d decided on the drive up that we were only gonna do this once, so I’d better do it right. This turned out to be one of my poorer life decisions.
After recording a few shots of me at normal, human temperature (my skin read a reasonable ~94 F), I went for it. On camera, I poured a large shot glass’ worth of hot sauce into my mouth -- most definitely a medically inadvisable amount. Like many disasters, it built slowly. I had just enough time to think, “Oh this ain’t so bad!” before hiccups started, my mouth was suddenly filled with molten lava, and I began sweating profusely. (I later found out that GE engineers had tasted the sauce with the edge of a fork, and tapped out immediately.)
In the following minutes, my face and arms went numb, my eyes poured tears, and my breathing gave the impression that I had, in fact, run from NYC to Niskayuna. Sitting still was out, so I resorted to pacing around the lab, gorging on any remaining ice cubes I could find, and generally wondering if I shouldn’t hand over my decision-making powers to a court-appointed guardian. After 20 minutes, I’d cooled off enough to take a second round of thermal images, which showed a heat increase of about two degrees in my face due to blood flow. Somehow it felt like a lot more than that.
Watching myself live on thermal camera was pretty unnerving, as I became party to info that I’d just never thought about -- like heat coming off my veins and changing blood flow around my face. While lots of fun to play around with, it’s mostly just a super-important technology with cool uses in advanced manufacturing!
As for the sauce, it is as bonkers-hot as advertised. But before the heat kicked in, I had just enough time to think, “Hmm, this tastes pretty great!” For spice-heads looking for a serious challenge, I say go for it. If you’re the type of person who picks jalapenos out of their enchiladas, I still say go for it, but try a forkful first, and have a glass of milk on hand (as recommended by GE’s biologist). Whoever you are, don’t say I didn’t warn you.