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Chilli hot peppers : seeds, chillies and sauces

Updated on October 23, 2011

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 Dorset Naga: it looks innocent, but...
The Dorset Naga: it looks innocent, but...

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

This page generates income for the author based on affiliate relationships with Amazon and eBay.


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    • profile image

      habanero 7 years ago

      I agree no Bhut Jolokia in my salad! Although I may pop a habanero in from time to time. Great info on the Scoville Scale, thanks!

    • profile image

      Ellen 7 years ago

      We've grown some Bhut Jolokia's and boy are they hot. I tried a piece the size of a large grain of rice and it really burnt. Drink plenty of milk!

      Planning on making a pepper sauce with them.

      Have a look on You Tube at some crazies actually eating whole ones!

    • BRIAN SLATER profile image

      Brian Slater 7 years ago from England

      ok thanks i will try that- it was my neighbour that mentioned trying to freeze them, although he had never done it-thanks for helping.

    • EmpressFelicity profile image

      EmpressFelicity 7 years ago from Kent, England, UK

      Hi Brian, I dunno about freezing them but you can dry them - suggest putting them in a bowl and sticking them in the airing cupboard for a couple of weeks. Then you can store them in a jar!

    • BRIAN SLATER profile image

      Brian Slater 7 years ago from England

      i have grown chillies for the first time this summer-mainly as a bit of fun. The bush has lots more than possibly we can eat, can you freeze them?

    • telltale profile image

      telltale 7 years ago

      I am aware of the different types of chillies, but I am not aware that there is a measuring scale on the hotness of chillies - this is eye opening. Living in an Asian country, using chillies is a way of life for us, and knowing it more indepth will definitely be an advantage. Good Hup and thank you for writing this Hub.

    • jayjay40 profile image

      jayjay40 8 years ago from Bristol England

      Good hub and very informative.I needed to know how hot chillies are, as it can be confusing