GRAND LEDGE, Mich. — Kevin Thomas started his business Thomas's Natural Roots with his wife eight years ago.
“My wife and I have always been into peppers so we grown, this year we grew 87 different kinds of peppers,” Thomas said.
They wanted a way to spice things up a bit.
“I had a conversation with the owners several years ago and he thought it would be a great idea to get our peppers out there and something fun to do for people,” Thomas said.
Thomas was a customer at Sanctuary Spirits in Grand Ledge and would talk about his peppers. That's when the distillery's owners Karl Glarner Jr. and Tolin Annis got an idea.
“One year we thought, boy it would be fun to have a competition,” Annis said.
A hot pepper eating competition.
“We basically started bringing our pepper collection here and growing stuff for the competition,” Thomas said.
The contest was back by popular demand this year after being canceled last year due to COVID, making it the fourth year for the contest. Glarner said between 75 and 100 people came to the contest with the youngest participant being 14.
“I didn’t know if we could pull it off in Grand Ledge, but we’ve had a fabulous result and everybody’s been really happy,” Glarner said.
Annis said he had to get in on the fun by being the first to sign up and usually the first to tap out. This year he had a goal, but didn't quite make it.
“This year I only made it to 250,000, but in the past I’ve done eight nine hundred," Annis said. "I was trying to break a million and didn’t come close.”
The Scoville Scale measures how spicy or not spicy every pepper is. This year, the mildest pepper was the white fantasy which is the heat of a jalapeno or a Scoville level of about 5,000 SHU.
“Which is an ahi pepper," Thomas said. "They’re originated from South America. All the ahi peppers are fruity, citrus based peppers with varying heat amounts.”
The hottest was the Carolina Reaper with a Scoville level of more than two million. Thomas said he has back ups he thinks are spicier in case a tie breaker is needed.
He didn't have to worry about a tie breaker this year though. Beth Augustine, 37, was the sole champion of the contest.
“It was a ton of fun, I’m glad I did it,” Augustine said.
Augustine said she entered the contest to beat her husband Ron who came in second place. She said the hardest part is after the contest.
“Probably now," Augustine said. "Now that I’m out of the Zen mode, it’s really hot.”
Annis and Glarner said they aren't surprised the winner was a woman.
“Women seem to do better than men a lot of times," Annis said. "They have a higher tolerance I think.”
And Thomas is just happy to see people enjoying his peppers.
“I’m glad people have fun eating our peppers," Thomas said. "It’s a fun thing to do.”
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