Extreme chilli eating: like swallowing a hot coal
Australian chilli expert Neil Smith reckons eating chillies is "as good as" taking drugs.
He was at Auckland's Hot Sauce Festival on Saturday, reviewing the big black mama - a super spicy, tear-jerker of a chilli - before the annual New Zealand Chilli Eating Championships kicked off.
"It's like someone's shoved a hot coal down your throat," he called out with a hiccough, neck veins pulsating, after swallowing the wrinkled maroon fruit. "And my gums have started going 'whow - whow - whow."
Smith, 50, said he loved eating eating burning hot chillies for the after effect - an endorphin rush as good as drugs.
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"I think that's why a lot of people get into chillies, 'cause of the feeling you get afterwards," he said.
He says people don't need to use illegal cannabis. They can just munch chillies.
Smith reckons the spicy fruit are addictive: "After a while your tolerances do build and what you find is you have to find hotter chillies to get that kick, or buzz," he said.
Smith's been growing, processing, and reviewing chillies at the Hippy Seed Company in New South Wales since 1998. He's something of an internet sensation with fans around the world.
His wife was one, and the pair met when she asked him a question on Twitter about growing chillies in Denmark. She moved to Australia and they've since been married five years.
Extreme chilli eating is not for sissies. Last year ghost pepper puree burned a 2.5cm hole in an American man's oesophagus.
To win the 2017 NZ Chilli Eating Championships, 12 contenders eat their way through a line-up of chilli species that vary in spiciness.
Event organiser and Kiwi chilli grower Clint Meyer said hopefuls start off at the relatively human-friendly jalapeno and climax with a big black mama, via the world's hottest chilli - the Carolina reaper.
Each chilli must be held in the mouth for 30 seconds before being swallowed. If you drink, leave the table, or vomit, you're out.
Scoville heat units (SHU) measure a chilli's hotness. Carolina Reapers reach up to 2.2million SHU. Ghost peppers hit around one million and jalapenos rate between 1,000 and 20,000 SHU depending on cultivar.
Former NZ chilli eating champs have super hero names. There was 'Dangerous' Dave Adams back in 2012. William 'Chilli Willie' Austin was co-champion of 2014. Josh 'Hotter' Shotter took the title in both 2015 and 2016 - and is aiming for a hat trick.
Meyer said he was expecting "a lot of tears, hiccoughs, grimacing faces, and people throwing up" during Saturday's competition.
The event was held at Sweatshop Brew Kitchen in central Auckland. Pro hot sauce makers from around the country had stalls displaying their wares to around 600 chilli fans, and judge a homemade hot sauce competition.