From scarfing down his grandmother’s pickled jalapeños to planting his first pepper in 2004, Troy Primeaux has always had an admiration for the hot commodities.
And now, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette employee is poised to break the Guinness World Record for hottest chili pepper with his genetic concoction: The Louisiana Creeper.
And, jeepers, the sting of these Creepers is guaranteed to show in your watery peepers: The pepper is the spawn of the BBM and the 7-Pot Primo, two of Primeaux’s prior creations, and a play on the current record-holder, the Carolina Reaper. Weighing in at an average 2 million Scoville Heat Units, the Creeper trumps the Reaper’s average of 1.57 million SHU.
An El Paso, Texas, native who moved to Crowley and later Lafayette, Primeaux, 45, says the pepper is also a great tool for community unity and local sustainability.
“I’ve always said that we’re last in a lot of things,” he said, “but Lafayette’s what, the happiest city in America? Louisiana’s got all these happy awards. (The Creeper) is a way to pull the community in and state in to believe in something we’re doing.”
The pepper combines the average 1.479 million SHU the 7-Pot Primo packs with the “creeping” bite the BBM delivers. Primeaux said the end result is adrenaline tantamount to a heart-pounding, near-death experience followed by what feels like a runner’s high.
“If you don’t know all that goes into it and you just think you’re about to eat some nacho jalapeño rings, it’s going to take you for a ride and you could have a panic attack,” he warns. “You could have an anxiety attack. It won’t kill you, but you might think you’re dying.”
Before he began plying his pepper passion, Primeaux was a nursing major with an interest in horticulture. Before he was a nursing major, he was a guitarist in Santeria, a Southern psychedelic rock band. Brother Dege, the band’s singer, would go on to have a song in the movie “Django Unchained.” With some persuasion from his wife and after his band mate got hit head-on by an 18-wheeler, Primeaux said, he decided to attend UL-Lafayette.
A work-study employee, Primeaux did his stint in Hamilton Hall with the renewable resources department. While there, he chatted up the horticulturists across the hall and “picked their brains” about peppers.
“I was always interested in peppers, and naïveté would dictate that, in time, I just thought taking a hot pepper and another hot pepper, I’d make a hotter pepper,” he said.
Although he managed three years as a nursing student with a 3.8 GPA, Primeaux changed his major to sustainable agriculture. Primeaux began his pepper-peddling business when he purchased 10 bhut jolokia seeds — better known as the ghost pepper — for $40 from a European distributor. After he grew the plants, he reaped $4,000 by selling the seeds on eBay.
With that exponential return on investment came an invaluable business lesson: “If it leaves your backyard, all bets are off,” he says. “You better trust the people involved. It’s very cutthroat.”
Around the same time he obtained the ghost pepper seeds, Primeaux’s friend gave him some 7-Pot seeds from a trip to Trinidad, the pepper’s place of origin. Named after its ability to spice seven pots of stew, the pepper is also used as marine paint in Trinidad to ward off barnacles, and as an ingredient in military-grade tear gas.
Primeaux combined the 7-Pot and the bhut jolokia to create the 7-Pot Primo. Utilizing UL-Lafayette's Ira Nelson Horticulture Center to grow the plants, he began selling the pepper when the strain stabilized, producing more-uniform pods.
Primeaux transformed his and his mother’s backyards into a hot-pepper haven. Although he lost 200 plants in the floods in August, he said, he has backup plants in different states. Nevertheless, he said, he will not sell seeds until next year.
In the meantime, Primeaux is working as a watershed coordinator at UL-Lafayette, a job that entails collecting and analyzing water samples from the Lacassine swamp. His wife is perfecting pepper jellies, which some restaurants use today. Primeaux said the next step is expanding his business’s scope past hot sauce and seeds.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Do we have a seasoning? Do y’all have pickles? Do y’all have a ketchup?’” he said. “I could put the Primo or the Louisiana Creeper in all kinds of products, and people would buy it.”
He has also started a dialogue with UL-Lafayette about collaborating on a Ragin’ Cajun-themed pepper.
“We are very interested in growing our licensed consumable products based on the success of our licensed burgers, beers and coffee,” said Charlie Bier, communications specialist for the university.
Even if Primeaux breaks the Guinness World Record for hottest chili pepper, he says, he will begin focusing on making an even hotter pepper.
“Maybe it’ll be the world’s sweetest pepper: A cold-tolerant, flood-tolerant pepper,” he joked.
In any case, Primeaux is going to embark on his next hot-pepper trek in the same manner he did creating the 7-Pot Primo and the BBM: with passion and love.
“I have a pretty good gut instinct of doing things,” he said. “It’s never failed me.”