Hot chile pepper enthusiasts were in an uproar when the Indian Bhut Jolokia Pepper started making news. It was touted as the hottest chile in the world, hotter even than the Red Savina Pepper, which had been certified the hottest by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1994. Since then, this native of the northeastern region of India has continued to make news with its legendary heat. In 2007, the Guinness Book of World Records did indeed certify the Bhut Jolokia Pepper as the hottest chile pepper, as much as two times hotter than the Red Savina.
Although initial tests of the heat of the Bhut Jolokia Pepper were met with much incredulity by the chile pepper community, several tests have certified its heat, including one by the Indian Defense Research Laboratory. This test registered it at 855,000 Scoville Units in the year 2000. a subsequent test found that it reached over 1,041,000 Scoville Units. For context, the comparatively mild Jalapeno pepper averages about 10,000 Scoville Units.
With a heat as intense as that of the Bhut Jolokia Pepper, its status is nearly legendary. It is known by many different names throughout the region, including Naga Jolokia, Naga Hari, Nagu Morich, and Dorset Naga. The word Naga is thought to be inspired by the fierce warriors of Naga in the Assam region. Other popular names include Bih (“poison”) Jolokia, Raja Mircha (“King of Chiles), and Ghost Chile (Bhut is the word for ghost). They may also be cultivated in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and some cultivars, such as the Dorset Naga are being grown in England and the southwestern U.S. The spicy pepper is popular pickled, and used in curries in India. The Bhut Jolokia Pepper is used to treat stomach ailments, as an elephant repellant and as a way to cool down in the summer heat of India. Eating spicy foods encourages sweating, which helps to cool the body down.
There is some debate about which family of peppers the Bhut Jolokia Pepper belongs to. Some believe it belongs to the Capsicum frutescens while others believe it is a Capsicum Chinense. Recent DNA testing has shown that it may be a cross between the two.
Bhut Jolokia Peppers range in color from green to fiery red and orange, and differ from Habaneros in appearance because their skin is dented and not smooth. It grows similarly to the Habanero, but it has been discovered that they have the most heat when grown in the rainy, humid region of Assam.
When working with the Bhut Jolokia Pepper, be sure to wear gloves, eye protection and a breathing mask, particularly when grinding dried peppers. For the casual chile eater, the Bhut Jolokia Pepper may be too hot, for others, they can eat them with aplomb. 25 year old Anandita Dutta of Assam, India ate 60 of these peppers in under two minutes on a 2006 television show.