County farmer bringing the heat

By Keith Strange

May 24, 2014

COPELAND — Some like it hot, while others like it really, really, really hot.

County farmer Lewis Draughn is in the latter category.

For more than a decade Draughn has dedicated acreage on his 19-acre Rolling Meadow Farms to growing exotic hot peppers, and this year is no different.

By hot, though, Draughn means HOT. County residents who feel the burn incurred by eating a jalapeno may want to take a moment’s pause before chomping down on one of his selections.

From the world’s hottest pepper to milder peppers that are only 50 to 60 times hotter than a jalapeno, Draughn has a wide variety in his greenhouse this year.

It all began with a visit to the doctor.

“I’ve been growing hot peppers for about 14 years now,” he said. “And when I got started I’d never really known much about eating them until my doctor told me I had to start taking blood pressure pills and cut out salt. When that happened, I needed something to season my food, and I chose hot peppers.”

He looked around his greenhouse, laden with more than 1,000 pepper plants, and laughed.

“I guess I kind of took it to an extreme,” Draughn said. “These days my wife won’t eat anything I say isn’t hot, because my hot and her hot are two different things.”

Draughn is growing more than a dozen varieties this year, some with menacing names like the new world’s hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper, which was cultivated in South Carolina. Other varieties Draughn is growing include former record-holders the Trinidad Scorpion and the Bhut Jolokia, otherwise known as the Ghost pepper.

For an idea of how hot these three peppers are, the scale used to measure heat is known as the Scoville Scale. A jalapeno rates on the bottom at around 5,000 Scoville units. The Carolina Reaper? 2.2 million Scoville units as tested by high performance liquid chromatography.

“Not all of the peppers I’m growing are that hot, but I like to have a variety,” Draughn said. “When I started getting into hot peppers years ago, my wife Trish just took it and ran with it. She began ordering more and more exotic seeds and it just escalated.”

Peppers, Draughn said, are like anything else, regular eaters become accustomed to the heat.

“You get used to it and it doesn’t bother you after a while,” he said of the rumored burn “on the other end.” “I never have any negative side effects.”

He does, however, tout the positive effects of eating a chili or two a day.

“The active ingredient in hot peppers, capsaicin, helped lower my blood pressure, it sped up my metabolism to help keep my weight down, and it is even believed to inhibit the growth of cancer cells,” Draughn said. “They are really good for you, and I can’t understand people who say they tear their stomachs up. Once you get used to eating them, they do much more good than harm.

“There are little babies in India right now who are eating Ghost peppers,” he added. “It’s just what you get used to.”

For the uninitiated, Ghost peppers come in at a warm 1.5 million Scoville units. Once again, a jalapeno rates about 5,000.

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.