Chilli hot peppers : seeds, chillies and sauces
Most people have heard of the Richter scale, which measures the intensity of earthquakes. But there was a scientist called Wilbur Scoville (1865-1942), who gave his name to the less well-known scale used for measuring the "heat" of chilli peppers and the products derived from them. This heat/spiciness in chilli peppers is produced by a chemical compound called capsaicin, which is found in nearly all types of chilli pepper except for sweet bell peppers, those big chunky green, yellow, orange or red peppers you can buy in any supermarket or greengrocer.
The Scoville scale runs from zero (no heat at all - those sweet bell peppers) to 16,000,000 (16 million), which you'll be relieved to hear isn't found anywhere in nature but is the value given to pure capsaicin and its derivative dihydrocapsaicin.
The hottest chilli pepper known to man is the Bhut Jolokia, which also goes under various other names including Naga Morich, Naga Jolokia, or the ghost chilli. This chilli comes from India/Bangladesh and is about 850,000 - 1,000,000 on the Scoville scale. That's seriously hot! To give you something to compare this against, the original Tabasco sauce is rated at about 2,500 - 5,000, jalapeño peppers are also about 2,500 - 5,000 (or 2,500 - 8,000 depending on which sources you read), and Scotch bonnet peppers are 100,000 - 325,000.
Eating a Dorset Naga (don't try this one at home...)
Not surprisingly, you won't find many people willing to cut the Bhut Jolokia up and toss the pieces in a salad, although it is used - sparingly - in some Indian foods such as fish curry. India's defence scientists have however found some non-culinary uses for it - for example, they're planning to use a powdered form of the Bhut Jolokia in hand grenades! Interestingly, Bhut Jolokia-type chillies don't just grow in the tropical climate of the Indian sub-continent. A couple called Joy and Michael Michaud, who own a market garden in the south-west of England, developed a variety called the Dorset Naga - with a similar Scoville rating to the Bhut Jolokia - which is grown in polytunnels to mimic the natural tropical habitat of the Indian Naga chillies.
You can buy various chilli-based products online. If you're a keen gardener and want to try something different, it's actually possible to buy Bhut Jolokia seeds and grow the world's hottest chilli pepper yourself! Or if you don't want to get your hands dirty, you can also buy a one pound bag of dried ghost chillies or even a selection of half a dozen different dried chillies in one handy dispenser.
If you'd rather use a chilli sauce than actual chillies, there are plenty available on the market. There is a certain level of culinary machismo in the names of the hottest ones, e.g. Dave's Insanity Sauce (180,000 Scoville units) and Blair's Ultra Death Sauce (complete with skull keychain and measuring in at 550,000 Scoville units). If those two examples aren't hot enough for you, then there's always Da’Bomb The Final Answer Hot Sauce which is an incredible 1.5 million on the Scoville scale. As you might imagine, this is NOT for direct consumption, and is meant only as a food additive. I repeat, DO NOT eat this straight out of the jar! In fact, none of the three sauces I've mentioned in this paragraph should be eaten neat. And if you're growing hot chilli peppers from seed or buying dried chillies, use with caution and store/place them in a location where children and pets can't get at them. Having said that, chillies and their seeds/sauces are a great gift idea for the hot & spicy-lovin' person in your life!
© Empress Felicity April 2010
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- http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article700700.ece - Dorset Naga article
Feature on the couple who grew the Dorset Naga
- Capsaicin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- BBC NEWS | South Asia | India plans hot chilli grenades
Defence scientists in India want to put one of the world's hottest chilli powders into hand grenades to control riots and fight insurgents.
- The Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers and Hot Sauces from ChilliWorld. Compare relative heats a
The Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers and Hot Sauces from ChilliWorld. This table gives a comparison of the heat in fresh chillies of different varieties ranks them with a number of popular chilli sauces.
- Bhut Jolokia pepper - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Picture credit: Peppers by Post
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