PEARCE, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) -- Most of the newest, most popular new foods are coming from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America -- all very different tastes, but with one ingredient in common. Chili peppers. So, how do you make them bigger and better tasting? The man to ask is right here in Arizona.

In some moments, you'll hear Ed Curry giving directions in Spanish. Other times, it's English.

Ed Curry

But the language that rolls off Curry's tongue most fluently is probably heat! The bright, burning soul of chili peppers.

"When you get a real sweet flavor and a little bite behind it, that's awesome," he said. "We got some that are really mean. They hit you, and they don't turn loose - they don't turn loose for a long time."

[WATCH: How an AZ farmer is making peppers bigger, better]

How hot will a pepper be? Curry says without tasting, the best way to guess is to look to see how far down the length of the yellow-white fibers does the capsaicin oil go? Capsaicin oil is what makes chilis hot.

He showed us exactly how to do it.

Ed Curry

"If it's a 10, it's really hot because the capsaicin goes all the way to the end. … If it's a very mild one, it'd be like a two. The other thing we watch for is how wide that band of heat is. So, the further that goes down, the hotter it is."

Curry is into genes -- finding and refining the genetic traits of chili peppers. -- jalapeno, ancho, serrano, and many more varieties.

Several of the major brands of canned and jarred chili peppers used by major restaurants and grocery stores are varieties Ed and his team have perfected here on the family farm in Pearce, Arizona.

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Ninety percent of the breeding seeds for green chili peppers in America come from Curry Farms.

"My dad started growing chili in 1957. I was born in '56, so since I was 1 year old, I've been in the chili business. And that's part of why we do this - my mother and father loved this. Chili is what made their life. They moved here from Oklahoma; they started growing pepper."

Ed Curry

Ed started young on this quest. His expert breeding is also at work to create chili peppers that have certain shapes and sizes that large food suppliers need.

"More than heat, what we're doing in breeding is about flavor. It's about flavonoids and what makes it good, you know, besides just the heat," he explained. "Another part of the industry that we deal with extremely is the color part - the color extraction.

"For many companies, they want to extract this red dye, so it becomes useable for makeups, for lipstick, for those kinds of things," he continued. "It's really important, especially for the ladies, that this goes in the makeup on, that we take the heat out of it, otherwise, they're gonna have hot lips. Now, I've been told that some of 'em don't need my pepper to make their lips hot."

This southern part of the state is ideal for growing peppers. High elevation, cool nights, more rain than most of the rest of the state.

Chili peppers

Ed is at work finding new flavors – there's a lot of science behind them -- and even new ways to ease your aches and pains.

"It's mainly for aching muscles," he said. "There's some new studies showing that you can use capsaicin for local anesthesia on topical surgery. [There are] a lot of uses for capsaicin."

Once the peppers are out of the field, they go to the farm's processing plant. The flesh and pulp are separated, heated, and dried. Much of this will go into chili powder and paste.

Ed Curry

"We range from extremely hot to extremely mild, and what we like to do -- my favorite -- what many of the canners are wanting is that medium heat with a little bit of sweet flavor behind it," Ed said. "And that's what we've been breeding for, is to get that little niche."

But the real treasure is the genetic genius of what's inside the seeds that will go to other growers in the Southwest and the rest of the country.

Ed Curry has never stopped being fired up about chili peppers.

He keeps a rig at home to roast and taste what comes out of his fields. Water and some foods may be able to quench some of the burn in the hottest chilis growing on this farm, but nothing will ever douse the passion this man has for this strange and spicy plant.

 


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