MUM-OF-TWO Sid Patel-Barber winced in pain as nauseating stomach cramps felt like childbirth and tears and sweat rolled down her cheeks.
But the secondary school teacher wasn't in labour; she was instead chomping on the infamous Carolina Reaper chilli – the hottest pepper in the world and over 800 times more potent than the average jalapeno.
Her reason for taking on such a challenge? Purely for "fun" – and in a bid to win the coveted title of chilli champion and its £50 prize.
The international competitive chilli-eating scene is quite literally 'red hot' right now and was thrust into the spotlight by Netflix series, We Are The Champions, which showcases unique competitions at the end of last year.
The chilli-eating episode was hosted by Reaper creator Smokin' Ed Currie and featured contestants including 'Chilli Sid', 56, from Reading.
As the sport's popularity soars, here Sun Online lifts the lid on the extreme world of competitive chilli eating competitions – from having to sign a disclaimer beforehand to A LOT of throwing up after…
Collapsing and pain 'worse than childbirth'
The concept of a chilli-eating competition is simple – each contestant must eat the full chilli right down to the stalk, without throwing up, to progress to the next round.
Chillies get hotter and hotter and are judged based on Scoville units, which measures the spiciness or heat of chilli peppers, with a Jalapeno measuring in at around 2,500-8,000, and the Carolina Reaper measuring up to a staggering two million.
One-by-one competitors begin to drop out as the competition progresses and the decision to take part is not for the fainthearted.
Competitors must sign a disclaimer and in extreme cases, people have been known to collapse after eating too many chillies and have to be rushed to hospital.
For Sid, hot food has always been a way of life, having grown up eating raw Bird's Eye chillies – 50,000-100,000 Scoville units – from the age of eight.
But even for her, the pain can be excruciating.
She warns: “We’re like adrenaline junkies. With chilli, you get a high. The cramps are like going through labour – after childbirth you think ‘I’m never going through this again', and then you forget the pain.
"Every time I do a contest my other half has to help me down from the stage because I’m so wobbly and lightheaded. You lose all feeling in your hands, so I tap my feet and shake my hands, but you know it will only last a short time."
Worth the pain – for the £50 prize
While Sid has always had a high chilli tolerance, it wasn’t until 2015 when she came across a chilli-eating competition in her hometown that she discovered the competitive scene.
Her husband Mike, 54, signed her up for the contest on a whim.
She says: "I sat down and the first chilli was a Bird's Eye, which was easy. I’d never eaten a Reaper – the chilli all contests in England usually end with – and after I’d eaten it my tongue felt like lava, and I started to get the cramps.
"I managed to get through around ten rounds but by the end I felt sick and wobbly and could barely walk, however I managed to beat my competitors to finish joint first and won £50."
Despite most contestants throwing up after the challenge, Sid escaped her first contest relatively unscathed, with no adverse side effects – however in her second competition she wasn't so lucky.
She adds: "The organisers invited me to the Bath competition a few months later. There were about 13 rounds or so, and I won again.
"Afterwards the man offered me a bin bag, which I took just to be polite, but I didn’t even get out the door before I was yakking up. I thought I’d feel better then – not a chance. Suddenly I needed the toilet as well. The whole way home I was violently unwell.
“The chillies must have been stronger, and it depends on how they’re grown as to how spicy they are.
“A couple of contests I’ve done, some competitors have actually chucked up on stage. I couldn’t look."
'It was like drinking lava'
For a few years Sid continued to do local competitions, until a video she featured in went viral.
It was then the school teacher attracted the attention of TV production company creating Netflix series We Are The Champions, and she was invited to take part in a contest like no other – Ed Currie's Inaugural International Pepper Eating Contest.
She says: “They flew me out to South Carolina and paid for the hotel, and I met Ed Currie, who’s my hero. I couldn’t believe it.
“In the UK we finish on the Reaper – in this competition they started on it, so you can imagine the level of heat! The organiser Ed Currie creates his own chillies, and we had two of each per round.
"We started off with two Reapers, then progressed to Reaper hybrids including the Ring of Fire, going up to 2.5 million Scoville units.
“It was like drinking lava, your mouth is just melted. Once you came off stage, everyone was given a bucket to be sick."
While Sid came close, the finalists were Bella Peters and eventual winner, Dustin 'Atomik Menace' Johnson – who walked away with the $1,000 prize.
'Someone tried to steal my sick'
Given the scene's sudden popularity, it's perhaps unsurprising pepper guru Ed Currie is a self-made millionaire.
In the pepper industry some plants are very valuable, and the seeds are too.
Sid – whose personal record is eating 40 Reaper chillies – says: "While I was backstage, some guys came up to me and asked if I’d been sick – I thought they were being gentlemen but actually they just wanted the seeds!
"If you create your own pepper that’s unique, it’s yours and you can call it what you want, but also people then buy it all around the world."
'I eat hot sauce on ice cream'
Anyone thinking of giving this a go should bear in mind just how high Sid's tolerance is and exercise caution.
She says: “Everything is mild to me. If I go to restaurants, I’ll order the hottest curry, then ask for a bowl of chillies and then I’ll scoff the lot and have some more. Wherever I go, I’ll have a tub of chillies and some hot sauce.
“I’ve had hot sauces on ice cream – you’ve got fruitiness and heat which is so nice. My favourite snack is cheese, crackers and chillies."
How to be a chilli champion
Warning: entering a chilli competition is NOT for the faint-hearted. But if you do decide to throw your hat into the ring (of fire), world renowned Clifton Chilli Club share their tips…
Beginners luck: Apparently, most chilli eating competition winners are people who have never entered a competition before – because they don’t know what’s coming. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail: Eating a small amount of heavy dairy produce such as cream, ice cream or cheese can apparently assist with the burn in the stomach.
Who run the world? Girls. Most chilli eating competitors are reportedly male. However, when women do enter, there is apparently a high chance that they will win.
Don't compare yourself to others: Some contestants are hesitant to eat a chilli and watch the others around them take a bite first. Big mistake. Don’t let other people’s reactions influence your decisions – it won't help you.
A problem shared… Those who are honest about the level of pain and suffering they’re going through often get the support of the crowd, which means they can get a much needed boost at times when they're coming close to throwing in the towel.
Visit www.cliftonchilliclub.com for more info.
Now, Sid hopes to turn her chilli-eating skill into a career eventually, launching her own range of sauces and doing reviews via YouTube.
And for those looking to dabble in the hot hobby, Sid advises: “The more you eat, the more your tolerance improves. I always tell people who’re looking to increase the heat to eat little and often start with one Bird's Eye chilli a day with food, then go to two, or add a hot sauce."
There are thought to be many benefits to eating chillies – although extreme caution is advised if not a pepper pro, like Sid.
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