The Serbian December snow hasn't stopped Aleksandar Tanic from cultivating his scorching-hot crop: crinkly chili peppers that are considered the spiciest on the planet.
On his land in southern Serbia, Tanic plucks a handful of red, yellow and orange peppers from rows of leafy vines inside a greenhouse whose roof is blanketed with a layer of snow. Among them is the chubby and gnarled Carolina Reaper, considered to be the hottest pepper out there, according to Guinness World Records. First developed in South Carolina, it boasts an average of 1.6 million heat units on the "Scoville scale" that measures capsaicin, the ingredient that gives peppers their firepower.
Despite Serbia's wintry temperatures, Tanic says he has no problem growing the peppers in soil beneath Mount Koritnyak in the town of Niska Banja: "We have a good climate here," says the former electrician. I don't know why but the peppers are better and bigger and maybe even hotter here".
Tanic first started researching peppers a few years back "out of a love for cooking and spicy food," he says. He began tasting varieties from the US, the Caribbean, South America and Asia that were far hotter than the red peppers used to make Serbia's beloved ajvar spread.
With the help of his father Svetislav and a friend, Tanic is now growing about fifteen varieties including the Trinidad Moruga Scorpio, which has 1.2 million heat units, the Seven Pot Habanero and the Mustard Habanero.