A few words about “ouch”

Since an online discussion brought this back to my mind today:


That’s a habanero pepper. (It’s a close cousin of, and more or less interchangeable with, the scotch bonnet pepper.) For most people in North America, it’s the hottest pepper you can easily get your hands on–indeed, there are probably lots of people who think it’s the hottest pepper, hands down.

You might know that there is an objective rating of “hotness” in peppers–the Scoville scale. (And if you doubt the science-ness of it, I point out that in talking about it you get to say things like “Spice heat is now usually measured by a method using high performance liquid chromatography”, which has a lot of science sound to it).

On this scale your average red or green bell pepper rates a zero, that pepperoncini that comes in the East Side Mario’s salad rates around 100, your typical jalapeno rates between 2500 and 8000 depending on strain and how it was raised. Those crazy hot little Thai peppers can get up to 50000. The habanero and scotch bonnet range from 100000 to 35000–somewhere between 45 and 140 times hotter than a jalapeno. That’s hot.

I have done work with habaneros–I’ve used them very finely minced in the Seven Pepper Chili, I’ve made a “Oh, you’re from Trinidad” chutney with them, and my favourite trick is to slice them and rub the slices on the outside of steaks prior to grilling them. I am very particular about using gloves with these little guys, since I once did the jalapeno-finger-contact lens thing, and I don’t even want to think about the 80 times hotter version. I also sometimes get dried habaneros and grind them into a powder form that I can use as a seasoning–a shake over the pizza after it’s been sauced, before the toppings and cheese, really changes the pizza experience.

Despite that, habaneros in general are really just too hot for me. I can’t imagine taking a bite of one–which I could certainly do with a chipotle, and have even done with some thai peppers (albeit, by accident). I know people, like the aforementioned Trinidadians, who would enjoy doing so, and I can’t really conceive of it.

But you know, peppers come a lot hotter.

Naga Jolokia Pepper

Those are Naga Jolokia peppers (that name means “cobra peppers”, and they are sometimes also known as Bhut Jolokia, which means “ghost peppers”).

On the Scoville scale, these things are over a million units–that’s up to ten times hotter than habaneros. Imagine it.

How hot is that? Well, the Wikipedia entry says: “In northeastern India the peppers are smeared on fences or used in smoke bombs as a safety precaution to keep wild elephants at a distance.” Look, if rubbing this pepper on a fence is enough stop an elephant…

It also says that “One seed from a Naga Jolokia can produce sustained intense pain sensations in the mouth for up to 30 minutes before subsiding”. Yowza.

Of course, this pepper is not so easily available everywhere as a habanero.

Except, of course, for the role of the Internets. You can have them sent to you anywhere–even my favourite Canadian supplier of peppers, ChillyChiles, has them available at $7 for 20 grams. And look what the description says: “Half a pod is plenty, great in curries and wing sauces.” That’d be some mean curry.

Of course, the next time someone from Trinidad questions my virility, based on the heat level of my Seven Pepper Chili, I can use those peppers to make a “stir in” salsa that they can add, so they can have that same sweating, bouncing-from-side-to-side experience that the rest of us get from just the chili.

We will not speak of hot sauces.

  2 comments for “A few words about “ouch”

  1. January 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Is people from Trinidad questioning your virility a common occurrence?

  2. January 5, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Generally questioning my virility? No, not so much.

    Questioning my virility specifically in relation to the heat level of my chili? More than you might think.

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This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.