Wednesday, 11 October, 2006

Mind Blowing Chiles

Posted in Culinaria at 12:59 pm by glpease

“When the results of the heat tests came back I was gobsmacked.” No pun intended, I’m sure. These words were spoken by Mrs. Joy Michaud of Dorset, England, as quoted from an article in the Times OnlIne. She and her husband Michael run a business called “Peppers by Post,” and have spent four years developing a chile called the Dorset Naga, apparently a cultivar of the Capsicum chinense, and at over 900,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), now the record holder for the world’s hottest chile, besting the previous record of a skimpy 577k SHU, previously held by the Red Savina, a variety of the Habañero.

When I first read the article, I saw the 1st April, 2006 date, and thought it might be just another ridiculous April Fool’s joke. A little additional searching turned up sufficient support to disprove that. This thing is real. And scary.

The Dorset Naga is a descendent of the Naga Morich, a variety originating in Bangladesh. Naga Morich means “Serpent Chile,” and some have described eating the fruit as being like “Drinking cobra venom,” not the most pleasant of images. It is apparently used in some Bangladeshi dishes, especially some fish curries, but very sparingly. Aktar Miha of the Indis Bangladeshi restaurant in Bournemouth, was quoted as saying: “Most people don’t cook with it; they just have it near to them when they eat. They just hold it by the stalk and touch their food with it. If you don’t know what you are doing it could blow your head off.” Ouch.

Everyone who knows me knows of my love for hot chiles. I grow several varieties myself, and love the wonderful and intriguing flavors the fiery fruit can add to spicy foods, in addition to their heat. Each pepper expresses its heat differently in food, and it’s fun to combine varieties to enhance the experience. But, even the mere idea of this ruthless and brutal, hell borne fruit is enough to send me running for cover. I’ll leave it for someone else to touch one to their food.

The Habañero, one of my faves, is devilishly hot, measuring 100-300,000 SHU. It’s got an engaging fragrance and a delightful, fruity, slightly floral flavor. If not treated with caution, however, it can be like a small, orange atomic hand grenade ready to explode in your mouth. When I first experimented with them, I used three in a small pot of vegetable curry, and the melange was inedible by anyone without an asbestos tongue. I was left with blisters on the backs of my fingers for days from cutting them before donning a hazmat suit. When I washed the cutting board, I choked on the pungent, toxic miasma released by the hot water; chopping the most odorous of onions is child’s play in comparison. I learned quickly, and painfully, to treat them with great care. I’ve developed a respectful relationship with the Habañero, and have learned to truly enjoy their unique qualities, as well as its cousin, the Caribbean Red, which is somewhat hotter, and has a more concentrated flavor. I’ve never ventured into the realm of the Red Savina, the previous record holder, and have little inclination in that direction any time soon.

But, something with three to nine times the explosive power of the Habañero is unthinkable, more like a portable hydrogen bomb, a culinary weapon of mass destruction than a delightful spice. The Michaud’s must be growing these things in plutonium-rich soil. I hope the Dorset Naga can be kept out of enemy hands.

Still, curiousity unsated, I looked further, and found this intriguing recipe for “Snake Bite Sauce.” Once the mental blistering from reading about this chile have healed, somewhat, I just may have to give it a try. If you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know why.

The inquisitive can read more information on the development of the Dorset Naga, and the truly intrepid can order the peppers directly from Peppers by Post. If you decide to try them, I wish you luck. Make sure someone is nearby to catch and reattach your head when it falls back to earth.

Addendum: After spending some time on Mark McMullan’s & Julian Livsey’s wonderful “The Chile Man’s” website, where I found the “Snake Bite Sauce” recipe, I strongly recommend anyone who has even a passing interest in the fiery fruit to visit. The information presented there is broad, with an exaustive searchable database, tips, growing guides and lovely photographs of some rarely seen pods. It is the resource for the hot-heads amongst us. I’ve only begun to plumb the depths of this site, and have found it not only very educational, but also immensely enjoyable. Nice work!



  1. a11en said,

    🙂 Excellent post!! 🙂

    My grandfather used to eat raw Scotch Bonnet peppers… he would sneeze and cry and cough… but he kept eating them.

    He must have had some serious cajones…

  2. glpease said,

    Thanks, A-Eleven-En!

    I’ve heard of people like that. I’m a pretty serious chile-head, but there’s no WAY I’m popping a raw hab in my mouth. I took a bite of one of my Caribbean Reds, and the experience was interesting, to say the least. The hiccoughs didn’t stop for about 20 minutes. The searing pain lasted somewhat longer. I’ll leave the cobra venom, too, for someone with something to prove. 😉

  3. George Dibos said,

    Years ago I developed a taste for standard-strength orange Habs served the Mexican way: charred black in an open flame, and set next to a coarse-salt-covered can of Tecate. You just picked ’em up by the stem, popped ’em in, chewed a bit, and pulled on the cervesa.

    Since leaving Arizona, though, I don’t do it so much. Mostly beastly-hot Indian and Pakistani curries these days.

    Anyway. The point is I can appreciate EXACTLY what 900K Scoville means, and can imagine what eating something of that rating would be like. And my mama didn’t raise THAT big of a fool.

    You try one and let us know what it’s like, though, Greg. OK? 😉

  4. Will Wright said,


    I once got my hands on a jar of habanero-stuffed olives. I assumed that the pickling would tone-down the spice of the peppers, but I was wrong. Those turned out to be the hottest habaneros I’ve ever tasted. What’s more, they tasted so great with the olives and brine that I made the mistake of eating a bunch of them within a single day. Each one was a painful experience, but they were tremendously thrilling, in a way. In any case, I woke up the next day and found that it was quite painful to move my tongue. It turns out that I had burnt through through the thin connective tissue underneath my tongue. (If you’ve ever been dumb enough to spray Binaca underneath your tongue, you know what area I’m talking about.) My tongue didn’t start to feel normal again until an entire week had passed.

    I don’t know if I could handle anything much hotter than those peppers were, but I have to admit that I have a penchant for pain of that sort, so I might end up trying the Nagas anyway. I’ll be sure to let you know if I do. However, the link to Peppers by Post hasn’t turned out to be very helpful (at least not for residents of the U.S.). The fact is that they’re based in Britain and don’t sell fresh peppers outside of their country. However, they claim that they may be able to sell seeds for the Dorset Naga in the near future, and that they expect to acquire the license to sell them to the U.S. Do you know of any other distributors?

  5. glpease said,

    Ah, those sneaky olives. I was at the olive bar at one of my favorite supermarts, picking up some extra supplies for a party. I wasn’t paying too much attention, and the bin that I thought read “Jalapeno Olives” actually read “Habanero Olives.” (If you’ve ever been shopping while not thinking, and you sort of read the two words aloud, and you’ve already had a couple of martinis, you might begin to understand this mistake…) They encourage tasting before buying, so I spooned one into one of the little tasting cups, and popped it in. It was a few minutes before I realized my error. The pain was intense, the flavor amazing, and the endorphin rush was profound. Lovely things, those! But, one was all I could handle, and I couldn’t bring myself to inflict this sort of torture upon the unsuspecting guests.

    Good point about Peppers by Post. Since they developed the thing, I suspect they’re currently the only source. I’ll see what I can find out, though. Seeds will probably be the best option.

  6. Will Wright said,

    No warnings?! No legal waivers to sign?! And all this at a place where patrons are encouraged to casually chomp on one olive after another until they find the one they like… I can’t help but wonder if this is the work of a mischievous employee with a sadistic sense of humor. I never have trusted those white-apron wearing scoundrels hiding behind the cheeses at Whole Foods. 🙂

  7. glpease said,

    Hm. Habaero laced brie…

    I just received a note from Joy. The paperwork to send the things to the US is ridiculous, however seeds will present no trouble when they have them. She’s got to do all the collecting, processing, drying and so on. The pods don’t produce many seeds, and it’s a bit of a risky business dealing with those things. She advises they won’t be cheap.

    In the interim, as there’s a fairly large Pakistani population in the bay area, I’ll poke about in search of the original, though milder version. I won’t rest, though, until I’ve had the one, true Dorset Naga!

  8. George Dibos said,

    Let me be the first to predict that you won’t rest AFTER you’ve had one, either! LOL!

  9. Xinep Ekim said,

    It won’t be the “going down” that’s the problem; it’s when the pepper seeds decide to leave my intestines which is the scary part.

    Looking forward to your synopsis….

  10. George Dibos said,

    Well, GL, I just finished the first meal of a new-recipe batch of Vindaloo. In a four large portions/six average portions pot went 6 tsps of Indian “extra hot” chili powder (about 1.5x Cayenne in heat); and 24 whole dried Prik Ki Nu (Thai) reds…

    The verdict? Vicious. Nasty. Evil. Spiteful. Aggressive. Wicked. In short, EXCELLENT!

  11. Nick said,

    Those things just sound scary. I love hot food, and spice up all sorts of stuff with haberneros. But god, you really do need to handle them with care. A couple of times I’ve gone for a late night snack and chopped up some pepers for one dish or another and then gone to bed. Oh my god! I went to take out my contacts and hadn’t washed my hands well enough. I felt like my eyeballs were going to burst into flames. Worse yet, being the brilliant guy I am, I thought that a night soaking in saline would rid the contacts of the malicious sting. WRONG!!!! There’s not much worse than such horrific pain so early in the morning. To quote Darkwing Duck: “This is the second most painful moment of my life.”

  12. thechileman said,

    Hi Culinaira,

    First of all well done for an excellent article – Im glad you found the recipie for our Naga snake bite sauce.

    If you would like some seed to grow some for yourself next year, just drop my an email


  13. glpease said,

    Thanks, Mark, for both the kind words and the offer. Email sent!

  14. flaminbill' said,

    This may be the dumbest post ever, but has anyone ever considered adding any kind of ground or chopped hot pepper to a pipe tobacco blend? Ever since my first taste of Escudo and Haddo’s Delight I have pondered this question. I have been a chili head for years and I guess that the nose bite from Va/Perique blends got me wondering.


  15. Filipe said,

    these chillies are FANTASTIC ….I’ve grown my own from some originals a couple of years ago , they are slow and not very productive BUT boy they are so so favoursome in a slas sauce ……….brilliant

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