People are no longer afraid of a little spice; in fact, they demand it. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. hot sauce industry generated $700 million in 2018 alone, a gain of nearly 25 percent over the previous five years. And in the snack aisle, every company wants to be the lord of the Scoville unit—it’s why ghost pepper, habañero, and sriracha flavors have made their way onto chips, into beer, and into the coating on candy canes. But it turns out that in their mad pursuit for tongue-scalding dominance, they may have all been bested by … a jelly bean.
That a line of jelly beans has officially entered the hot-and-spicy market with such ease might be surprising, until you realize it’s all the brainchild of the flavor scientists at Jelly Belly, a company famous for perfecting the classic jelly bean varieties, while conjuring up welcome new ones. In some circles, though, they’re far more notorious for their bizarre "prank" flavors, like the horrifically accurate snot- and barf-flavored jelly beans from a few years back.
These new hot pepper-flavored beans come from the company’s new Fiery Five line, and they’re available in sriracha, jalapeño, cayenne, habañero, and Carolina Reaper flavors, all of which were made with real pepper purée.
The first sign that these beans might be more than a passing novelty confronts you right on the box, where the company proudly flaunts a warning label that claims this candy shouldn’t be eaten by anyone under the age of 13 or the elderly (or pets, for that matter). And marketing fluff, it is not. We held a taste test at Mental Floss to gauge the reactions to the Fiery Five, and, well, there were a lot of perspiring foreheads around the office. We started with the mildest of the bunch: sriracha.
“It tastes like I’m eating Korean food,” Justin Dodd, Mental Floss video producer, says. “Very savory, pretty nice kick, not painful at all.”
While sriracha has all the spicy street cred, it’s relatively tame in terms of actual punch. According to Jelly Belly, this one comes in at 2200 Scoville heat units, meaning it would take 2200 cups of water to completely dilute the heat of one cup of sriracha.
After sriracha comes jalapeño (5000 Scovilles), cayenne (50,000 Scovilles), habañero (350,000 Scovilles), and the Carolina Reaper at a sinus-clearing 2.2 million Scovilles.
“Cayenne was less spicy than sriracha and jalapeño to me,” Jon Mayer, senior video producer at Mental Floss, says. “They both hurt your nose, though.”
Overall, the team found the jalapeño jellybean tasted the most authentic, while the spice of the habañero was impressive, despite it taking a few seconds to creep in.
Then came the Reaper.
“The Carolina Reaper similarly doesn’t hit you hard at first, but then it really gets you in your throat,” Mayer says. “It’s the only one that made me tear up.”
Similarly, Adam Weinrib, senior editor at 12up.com (also part of Minute Media), says the Reaper “torched our mouths and had us running to the communal fridge for glasses of milk. Plural.”
For my part, I almost needed a change of shirt after just one Reaper. After trying all five, I bravely walked off into the elevator bank to collect myself.
So, no, Jelly Belly’s Fiery Five is not a novelty to just pop into your mouth. It’s for serious spice lovers that don’t mind a little smoke coming from their ears. If you’re up to the challenge, you can head to JellyBelly.com to buy bags ($30) or boxes ($8) of these nuclear snacks.
You can also download the Bean Boozled app and dare a friend to take the Fiery Five Challenge, where you're tasked with spinning the virtual wheel and eating whatever jelly bean the arrow lands on. Then, you can share your reactions (tears and all) online.
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