Ryan Williams has always loved hot, spicy foods. He has largely been on the receiving end of some sizzling meals throughout his life, but he has recently attempted to turn the tables.
Williams, a mechanical engineer who is currently a stay-at-home father, is trying his hand at growing hot peppers. His peppers are far more scorching than a simple jalapeño or serrano pepper, however. Williams is growing some of the world’s most potent peppers, including a yellow ghost pepper, red ghost pepper, scorpion pepper and Carolina Reaper, which Guinness World Records named the hottest pepper in the world in 2013.
A pepper’s potency is measured in Scoville Heat Units. Jalapeño peppers are around 5,000 SHU. The yellow ghosts have around 800,000 SHUs, while red ghosts can get closer to 1 million SHUs. Carolina Reapers have been measured at over 2 million SHUs.
“What makes the ghost so hot — one of the things — is that the capsaicin (the compound responsible for the pepper’s burning sensation) is not only on the membrane, but it’s also on the inside of the skin, so it’s produced all the way through the pepper,” Williams said.
The idea for homegrown peppers began when Williams lived in Casper several years ago. He had a friend who grew hot peppers and would give him some of the surplus, which Williams used in soups, chilis and as pizza toppings.
So far, his plants have produced about 150 yellow and 60 red ghost peppers over the past few months. The plants haven’t produced any scorpion peppers or Carolina Reapers yet.
As a first-time grower, Williams makes the occasional mistake and learns as he goes. He assumed the pepper plants would do well outdoors when temperatures rose, but they got sunburnt immediately, resulting in the loss of some potential peppers.
Williams kept most of the peppers, but with the assistance of a local business, he turned some of them into an interesting concoction: ghost pepper bagels.
Williams approached Bagels & Beyond owners Jeff and Ladonna Daniels with the idea earlier this year, and they agreed to try it out. The store had never offered a bagel that hot before.
Williams dropped off 22 yellow ghost peppers, which were turned into 24 bagels. The first batch of red ghost bagels were made this past weekend. Jeff Daniels said he used about the same ratio of peppers and dough as he does for the jalapeño bagels.
“We were trying to think about how strong it would be and what the ration from jalapeño to a yellow ghost would be, and I think we hit it,” Williams said. “I think we hit just hot enough, maybe a little too hot for some people.”
Some demand for the spicy food exists, as a few customers have asked about and bought the bagels. Several employees also tried them out and enjoyed them. LaDonna Daniels ate half of one bagel and said she liked it, even though she usually doesn’t enjoy spicy food. Williams purchased the remaining bagels, which he stores in a freezer at home.
Williams may eventually work out an agreement with Bagels & Beyond to sell a limited number. Bagels & Beyond must be cautious when making the ghost pepper bagels because it would be dangerous for even a speck of the volcanic peppers to intermingle with other machines or food items.
“[The employees] really want us to do it, but with this food it would have to be one of those one-day things because you just have to be really careful,” LaDonna Daniels said.
Overall, though, the Danielses are open to the idea of selling the sizzling bagels more often.
“Something new, something more daring in this town,” Jeff Daniels said.
In addition to peppers, Williams and his wife grow flowers, vegetables and fruits at the solarium in their home. They also dabble in homemade salsa.
As for the scorching peppers, Williams plans to keep growing them for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to get as many pepper plants as we can going and then either keep them in the solarium over winter, or we can put them in the cellar,” Williams said. “As long as they’re not outside and they don’t freeze, we’re hoping to keep them going.”
If the peppers continue to grow, Sheridanites may have a chance to attack their tastebuds with the hot foods Williams loves so much.