Festival draws thousands, crowns a new Capt. Capsaicin
OXFORD — After three years as the reigning champion of the hot pepper eating contest, William Smith has handed the title to a new winner.
Greg Winge of Rocky Mount, Va., defeated Smith after 14 rounds of hot peppers in the seventh annual N.C. Hot Sauce Festival Saturday.
The festival began as an idea by Julia Overton to promote North Carolina’s products. From spilling out of Stovall’s Gifts on Main Street that first year, it now encompasses the heart of downtown with four streets blocked and an estimated 10,000 or more browsing.
Bounce houses and horse-drawn carriages dotted the streets. The crowds created significant lines at booths. They sampled different flavors of hot sauce, purchased ice cream, snow cones, funnel cakes and other typical festival foods.
And about 1 in the afternoon, they gathered around a tent at Littlejohn Street. An 18-wheeler trailer of Bailey Farms, the largest producer of peppers on the Atlantic Seaboard, was behind it and Randy Bailey emceed the event.
He introduced Smith as Capt. Capsaicin among the nine men and two women who entered. But about 30 minutes later, having run out of the hottest peppers and gone into a more rapid-fire eating contest of peppers not quite as sizzling, a new champion and winner of $300 was crowned.
Smith and Winge shared the title in 2011. Winge didn’t compete a year ago.
“I came down this year to settle the score with William,” Winge said.
Smith, a respected crowd favorite, said he felt fine.
“One more pepper, and I would have got him,” he said.
His wife, Ellen, said he gave it all he had.
“At 64 years old, he did a pretty good job,” she added.
No question there, or for anyone else giving it a try. But steadily, one by one with watery eyes and red sweat covered faces, the group dwindled.
The iron of the contestants’ guts were tested first with a fresno pepper then a jalapeño, followed by an orange habanero and a chocolate habanero.
After the chocolate habanero, contestants had to stomach a Trinidad Scorpion pepper, which measures more than 1 million Scoville units.
The Scoville Scale uses a method that dissolves capsaicin, the active component in peppers, in alcohol. This solution is then diluted with sugar water until the heat is no longer detected.
For example, if 1,000 units of water is used to dilute one unit of solution then the sample measures 1,000 Scoville units.
Kevin Whitfield took third place and as he walked off the stage, his family had a carton of milk ready for him to guzzle down.
Wendell Ligon, of Chase City, Va., was second last year. But he didn’t last as long this year.
“I’ve done hot wing contests, but peppers are worse because they are so fresh, it tears up your stomach,” he said. “I drank muscle milk before the contest, thinking it would help. But it didn’t.”
Winge’s wife, Donna, said she hopes this will be her husband’s last year at the hot pepper contest.
“Knock on wood, this is it,” she said.
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