I've always wondered why that little pepper was in the box. It's an interesting story. The reason even caused a pepper shortage crisis.

That pepper is a pepperoncini and it's pretty mild. It's become a bit of a trademark for Papa John's. Imagine how you'd feel, wether you eat them or not, if there wasn't a pepperoncini in your box when you ordered. I asked a few Rockford-area Papa John's employees just how strongly their customers feel about that pepper, here are a couple of my favorites:

"Several customers try to bribe us to put more than one in their box."

"I once had a customer ask me if I had other people's deliveries in my vehicle and if I would give him their peppers for $10."

While there are a variety of ways you consume that pepper, Papa John's actually has a Chief Ingredient Officer and he has a tip on how to use that pepper, but we'll get to that in a bit. First, how it came to be in your pizza box in the first place.

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Thanks to an article I read on thrillist.com, here's the story you've always wanted to know:

Before John Schnatter became a pizza millionaire (possibly billionaire) he was a dishwasher at Rocky's Sub Pub in Jeffersonville, Indiana. It was at this pub where John noticed how much the customers liked the pepper being put in their pizza box. He didn't forget that gesture when he started working at his dad's pub selling pizzas.

“John always acknowledged how much people loved that inclusion of the pepper, and since day one, he made sure there was a pepper in every one of his pizza boxes, too,” -Sean Muldoon, Papa John's Chief Ingredient Officer

Now that's not the only interesting part of the Papa John's pepper story. The story doesn't stay in the Midwest. The peppers that Papa John's uses all come from Turkey. Globally, Turkey is the third largest producer of peppers, almost 2 million tons annually.

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Sean Muldoon estimates that approximately 25% of Turkey's pepperoncinis end up in one of more than 5000 Papa John's locations. According to Muldoon, they caused one of the biggest pepper shortages in global history when the Papa John's chain grew from a couple hundred stores to 1,500 in the late 90s.

“It was actually a worldwide pepperoncini shortage, and it was our fault,” -Sean Muldoon

So however you eat or use this much in demand pepper, you should know that Papa John's Chief Ingredient Officer has a favorite way to use it that you may never have thought of. He bites the tip off and spreads the juices in a circle around the pie.

I think you still need to eat what's left.

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[H/T: Thrillist]