Do you like hot foods? What is the limit of your personal "heat" index - black pepper, jalapeno, serrano, the slinky Thai pepper or the more daunting Habanero? When does mouth-watering enjoyment deteriorate into eye-watering agony? The Aztecs utilised chilli peppers in a traditional drink. With heat levels spanning a wide range of "burn," chilli peppers are an essential ingredient in cuisines across the world from Mexico to the Far East, to suit every type of dish and palate. My own palate is far from fire-proof, but I do love hot foods. Sadly enough, as I grow older, my level of tolerance for "heat" is dwindling although I have heard that the opposite should happen with advancing age. I could handle Thai foods at a respectable 3.5 to 4 level of spicy with relative ease just a decade ago. Now I order a wimpish 2. Even then, my refrigerator is always stocked with a fresh supply of jalapeno or serrano peppers which I like to bite into during meals and an assortment of hot sauces to spread on bland dishes. I read once that the Indian born conductor Zubin Mehta carries hot peppers in his pocket when he is invited out to dinner, even to the fanciest banquet. Some people need a touch of "fire" to truly enjoy a meal. Southern and eastern Indian cuisines are normally hotter than the northern Mughlai cooking which most Indian restaurants serve. I knew that some of the hottest peppers grow in eastern parts of India. But this hot?
CHANGPOOL, India — The farmer, a quiet man with an easy smile, has spent a lifetime eating a chili pepper with a strange name and a vicious bite. His mother stirred them into sauces. His wife puts them out for dinner raw, blood-red morsels of pain to be nibbled — carefully, very carefully — with whatever she's serving.
Around here, in the hills of northeastern India, it's called the bhut jolokia — the "ghost chili." Anyone who has tried it, they say, could end up an apparition.
"It is so hot you can't even imagine," said the farmer, Digonta Saikia, working in his fields in the midday sun. "When you eat it, it's like dying." Outsiders, he insisted, shouldn't even try it. "If you eat one," he told a visitor, "you will not be able to leave this place."
The rest of the world, though, should prepare itself.
Because in this remote Indian region facing bloody insurgencies, widespread poverty and a major industry — tea farming — in deep decline, hope has come in the form of this thumb-sized chili pepper with frightening potency and a superlative rating: the spiciest chili in the world. A few months ago, Guinness World Records made it official.
If you think you've had a hotter chilli pepper, you're wrong.The smallest morsels can flavour a sauce so intensely it's barely edible. Eating a raw sliver causes watering eyes and a runny nose. An entire chilli is an all-out assault on the senses, akin to swigging a cocktail of battery acid and glass shards.
For generations, though, the pepper has been loved in India's northeast, eaten as a spice, a cure for stomach troubles and, seemingly paradoxically, a way to fight the crippling summer heat.
Now, though, with scientific proof that put the bhut jolokia into the record books — it has more than 1,000,000 Scoville units, the measurement of a chili's spiciness — northeast India is taking its chili to the outside world. Exporters are eagerly courting the international community of rabid chili-lovers, which has traded stories for years about a mysterious Indian chili. Chances are no one will get rich. But in a region where good news is rare, the world record status has meant a lot of pride — and a little more business.
"It has got tremendous potential," says Leena Saikia, managing director of Frontal AgriTech, a food business in the northeastern state of Assam that has been in the forefront of bhut jolokia exports.
In Assam, the wealthiest of the region's states, the long-dominant tea industry is facing falling prices and rising costs, and one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Attacks by the militant group the United Liberation Front of Asom and retaliatory government crackdowns, have brutalized the region.
"Maybe this bhut jolokia can help change things here," says Ranjana Bhuyan, a high-school teacher. "People have been eating this forever," she says.
The Bhut Jolokia (also known as the Naga Jolokia) made it to the Guinness Book of World Records by scoring a mind blowing 1,001,304 Scovilles on the Scoville Scale of pepperiness. To put that in perspective, please note that the mighty Habanero scores between
20,000 and 35,000 200,000 - 350,000!