Cocoa Beware

I tasted hellfire in a church this past week. Not the fire and brimstone type, not even the Crazy World of Arthur Brown type. Rather, it came in the form of a tiny morsel of chocolate.

My path to the flame began on a Saturday afternoon. A friend and fellow church congregant messaged me a photo of the devilish conduit of potential pain. The golden scrawl on its purple package simply said, “the hottest chocolate in the world,” underscored with the boastful proclamation that it was essentially infused with hellfire. A warning message was scrawled on an attached rectangle roughly five times the size of the diminutive container. A few seconds later, I receive another message. “I’m bringing this to church tomorrow,” the message stated. “You wanna try?”

Well, duh. Of course I want to try. Of course I want to subject my palate to the fires of hell in sweet, sweet chocolate form. The irony of it going down in a church setting is not lost on me.

This invitation to fiery indulgence inevitably raises a question, one that instantly makes me skeptical. Will the heat enhance the chocolate’s flavor, or will this be one of those “heat for heat’s sake” things? I’m hoping for the former, but I’m expecting the latter, which means I’m also expecting to be a bit disappointed. While I don’t mind occasionally melting my face off with a spicy morsel of food, I do mind it when there is no other purpose of the heat other than to bring pain and potential regret to the situation. Heat should be a component of flavor, not a palate punishment. If it’s the latter, there really is no point of going beyond one bite.

The chocolate’s brash marketing materials makes it appear that it solely exists to inflict misery and possible vengeance in certain contexts, but this could very well be bluster. I’ve encountered plenty of foods and sauces that boldly proclaim death and destruction but end up as milquetoast as a packet of Taco Bell mild sauce. This is its own tier of disappointment. In a way, it may even be worse than overwhelming heat. Again, I dig on the heat if it adds depth. If something promising a kick whiffs, it’s not meeting my expectations. I’d say to hell with this kind of wimpy expression, but it’s wimpy. Darning it to heck is more appropriate.

I run into my friend after church the next day. He discreetly produces a plastic zip bag containing the goods, as if he’s dealing in black market intrigue. The container of chocolate is in there, roughly the size of a credit card holder. It’s resting atop a pile of black rubber gloves. I’m not sure they’re there for show or out of genuine concern.

“You ready for this?” my friend asks. “Just so you know, the chocolate claims to be nine times hotter than a ghost pepper chile.”

This statement answers so much. The gloves are not for show. The chocolate’s heat is not going to underdeliver. Unfortunately, it’s also nothing but a novelty, a necessary component for Youtube clips ending in the word “challenge.” But there’s no backing out now.

We gather in a small room with a few other willing participants. My friend shakes the dozen Tic-Tac-sized squares of chocolate free from its purple casing. I grab a glove and pop a square in my mouth. It tastes good at first. It’s certainly hot, but the chocolate flavor is present, wrapped in smoky essence. My friend looks like a stoplight, but I’m doing okay. Dare I say, I’m enjoying this supposed neutron bomb of Scoville units.

Then said bomb detonates. All the morsel’s intrigue – the chocolate, the smoke, the nuance – is gone, replaced by a relentless scorch. I get hiccups. My eyes start to water. Even worse, my kids who are also in the room start laughing at me. Things are no longer pleasant.

A minute passes, and I’m left with a lingering burning sensation on my tongue. I glance at my friend. He’s nearly catatonic, but at least the red in his face has somewhat dissipated. Someone asks me about the experience, which puts me in analytical mode. I conclude that eating the square was akin to putting too many squirts of The Halal Guys’ infamous red sauce on their gyro platter. This connection also reiterates my philosophy about heat in food. If you mix in a few judicious squirts of that sauce into your platter, it’s delicious. Mix too much, and you may never touch the stuff again. Conversely, if the heat in the chocolate wasn’t deliberately dialed to 11, it would have been terrific. But it wasn’t, and I’m left to make claims of mere survival instead of enjoyment.

Of course, if my friend scores a different piece of chocolate that claims to be infused with one of Dante’s levels, you’re damn right I’m going to give it a shot. I really am that stupid.