GHOST PEPPERS FOR HALLOWEEN: BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID!
Several years ago, on a visit to India, my brother opened a jar and asked me to smell the contents.
He was holding it almost reverentially. “It’s bhoot jolokia in oil,” he said, a few seconds too late, as I had filled my lungs with the most pungent vapours ever. As I coughed and choked, he explained that it is rated one of the hottest peppers on the planet, the jar being a gift from a friend who had visited Nagaland.
Google it and you will find information about how it ranks against other hot pepper such as jalapenos. On the Scoville scale that measures heat units or the pungency of chilli peppers, the hottest jalapenos are at 8000. Bhoot jolokias start at 855,000. Also known as ghost pepper or red naga, it is cultivated in the Northeast Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. According to Google, in 2007, Guinness World Records certified it the world’s hottest chili pepper, 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. Though it was superseded by the Infinity chili in 2011, followed by the Naga Viper, the Trinidad moruga scorpion in 2012 and the Carolina Reaper in 2013, it remains right up there among the hottest of hot peppers.
I like my green and red chillies and grow various varieties including jalapenos, but I hadn’t come across bhoot jolokia. Until a few years ago, when there it was in a garden centre in the exotic vegetables section along with tomatillos and the like. So of course I had to have one. I brought it home, planted it in a large pot and set it on the deck where it basked in the heat all summer. Interesting shaped peppers in the brightest red appeared on it in plenty. Having read about how people only dared touch them with gloved hands, I left them on the plant for the colour, not daring to use it in any dish. The peppers dried on the plant, were duly stored in a jar and the plant brought inside to overwinter.
The process was repeated a few times until a friend encouraged me to try it in a sauce. A recipe found on the web says it has been “greatly tempered to make it edible without a trip to the emergency room”! And still, the instructions sound like you are working with nuclear waste. As in, open all windows and doors, put on rubber gloves and a breathing mask. And the kicker? Vacate premises for 30 minutes.
To reduce the heat quotient, the recipe advises one to deseed the peppers, and use only the flavourful flesh. But in spite of being tempted, I confess to chickening out. What I have, instead, are jars of dried ghost peppers that I gift my brother and a little jar of ghost pepper chutney made in, of all places, the UK, that sits in my fridge. I will report on the taste when I dare to open it...if I live to tell the tale!