Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cuisine: How hot is hot chilli pepper?

I didn’t know what a Scoville Scale is. Even my tenyears old know-all granddaughter Nonee didn’t know. So I looked it up on the Internet. It is a measure of the hotness of chilli pepper based on the capsaicin content. The method was developed by an American chemist, Wilbur Scoville in 1912.

Pure capsaicin has a value of 15,000,000 – 16,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It is against this the heat range of different chilli peppers is compared. At the bottom of the scale comes bell pepper with zero capsaicin content. For a comparative statement of the SHU of various chilli peppers, see:

Another method which is used now to gauge the hotness of peppers is the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) It is also known as the Gillett Method. The results are expressed in pungency units stipulated by the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA). They can be multiplied by 15 to roughly arrive at the equivalent Scoville Units.

But for experienced cooks all these are not very relevant. They know the pungency rates of the chilli peppers that are regularly used. The cook at home would be thoroughly confused if one suggests the Scoville Scale check. Only when a new variety of pepper is to be used, or brand is changed the cooks have to run trials.

Which is the hottest chilli pepper?

In English it is appropriately named King Cobra Chilli - the Naga Jolokia of Assam and other North-eastern states of India. See the image on the left. Other names for it include Bhut Jolokia, Ghost Chilli, Ghost Pepper, and Naga Morich.

But an interesting phenomenon is that the same specie grown in other parts of India is found to be almost 50% less hot. Apparently the climatic conditions have considerable impact on the SHU of chilli peppers.

What uses do chilli peppers have other than for cooking?

It has several medicinal properties as a pain remedy. It is considered to be a body coolant possibly because of the perspiration it induces. There is also a view that chilli pepper is a blood thinner, and reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels and therefore good for cardiac patients. For health and dietary benefits, see:

Then we have the Law Enforcement Grade irritant spray with a SHU of 855,000 – 1,050,000 (compared to 350,00 – 580,000 of Naga Jolokia). It is effective in mob control and for personal protection from attacks. Recently it was reported that Indian Defence scientists have developed a method to use chilli powder in hand grenades, again for riot control. It is also said that burning chilli keeps wild elephants away in forest areas.

In India, chilli pepper is used for decoration as well. There is also a belief that chilli wards off evil spirits. Understandably, even the demons may be scared of Naga Jolokia, the Ghost Chilli.

Photo credits: Top, by me from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Bottom, from Wikipedia.

Click to enlarge.

Also see:

Photos: Kerala chillies

1 comment:

Happy Kitten said...

did come across a very hot chilly recently and even after much washing of the hands it continued to burn..

and what could be the heat of our "kanthari"? it sure is fiery!