Food & Drink

The world of chilli-eating competitions

You may have heard of Man v Food but you may not be too familiar with chilli-eating competitions.

Last weekend at Foodies Festival in Syon Park, South West Londoner met Britain’s reigning chill eating champion, Uxbridge-based Shahina Waseem and spoke to her about how this unique career started.

SHAHINA WASEEM: The UK’s chilli-eating queen. Credit Foodies Festival

Shahina’s love of chillies began at university when she would go out for meals with friends, and always brought her own hot sauce or chillies to add to her food, which she found lacking in spice. 

It wasn’t until 2012, when one of Shahina’s friends discovered a chilli-eating competition in Kingston and, with her permission, entered her. 

Shahina went into the competition not knowing what it would entail. At the time, the hottest pepper she’d had was a scotch bonnet which she now says seems like ‘nothing’ compared to the other peppers she’s eaten since.

After studying on YouTube and knowing 30 friends and family were coming to watch her, she was determined to win. 

Shahina said: “I felt like I was dying and was surrounded by lots of big burly guys who were much more used to the food competitions than I was. But after eating a trinidad scorpion pepper, I managed to win but then did nothing for a year or two.”

Then she returned to competitions and won the second one and then the third one at Syon Park in 2015. 

After winning three from three, a local newspaper came along and featured her. The publication gave her the ‘Chilli Queen’ title, and it stuck. After that, Shahina thought how far can she go?

She went from winning three to ten, then set her sights at 25. When a German TV programme came and filmed her, they said if you get to 50 we’ll film you again. 

Waseem said each competition is different but generally there are 10-12 rounds and you start with mild jalapenos and work your way to the hottest, a Carolina Reaper. 

For context, the Reaper is the world’s official hottest chilli, which can range from 1.5 million SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) to 2.2 million SHU. This is about 200 times hotter than a Jalapeño which is roughly 2500 – 8000 SHU.   

TOO HOT TO HANDLE: Waseem eats 51 Carolina Reapers, the world’s hottest pepper

Waseem has been competing for nine years and explained how each event can turn into a bit of a spectacle.

“If you have two or three people taking part then there will be a race to the end which makes it really exciting for the audience watching, and for me competing and it makes you so determined to beat them.”

The Chilli Queen relishes every challenge, saying: “The pressure to win is immense. I’ve come up against some very strong opponents – men and women. That’s what I love about chilli-eating contests, it’s a form of extreme competitive sport which is not affected by age or gender.           

“I’ve also witnessed some really funny moments and entertaining reactions from those taking part.

“As the competition hots up and the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) rises, the shocked spectators see competitors go from confidently showing off and enjoying themselves to extreme sweating, tears, cramps and running for the nearest sick bin or bucket of ice water.”

81 consecutive competition wins is Waseem’s record. Even though she’s already the world record holder, she’s trying to get to 100. 

She said: “I intend to notch up 100 consecutive contest wins, and set a record that nobody in the League Of Fire can beat for a long time.”

However, it’s unlikely her crown will be stolen any time soon – as the person below her is at 8 consecutive competition wins, so there’s not anyone hot on her heels just yet.

Outside of competitions, Waseem recently appeared on ITV’s Game Of Talents and beat Radio One DJ Jordan North in a rapid-fire chilli challenge on Vernon Kay’s Game Of Talent earlier this year.

WASEEM VS NORTH: Shahina took on BBC Radio 1 DJ Jordan North in ITV’s Game of Talents

Feature image credit, Foodies Festival

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