The Indian military has decided to use the world’s hottest chili pepper, Bhut Jolokia (Capsicum chinense, Solanaceae, a.k.a. “ghost chili”),* to create a new kind of hand grenade.1
“The chili grenade has been found fit for use after trials in Indian defense laboratories,” Defense Spokesman Col. R. Kalia told the Associated Press.
The effect of these grenades will be similar to tear gas, though arguably more effective. A person exposed to the gas created by this grenade would become temporarily blinded (possibly for up to 3 minutes), experience shortness of breath, and feel a burning sensation on his or her skin, according to chili expert Dave Dewitt, publisher of www.fiery-foods.com and sometimes referred to in the media as the “Pope of Pepper” (oral communication, May 19, 2010).
“I’m not opposed to weapons that disable people instead of killing them—this will certainly disable someone,” said Dewitt. “I’ve never been gassed with Capsicum, but I have accidentally gotten juice from fresh chili pods in my eyes and can imagine that it would be very uncomfortable.”
However, this grenade may not be more potent than a grenade made from any type of chili pepper: “I think if you isolated any Capsicum to create this grenade, it would have the same effect. But people are interested in what’s extreme,” said Dewitt. “Making a grenade out of the hottest pepper in the world is news.”
“These extremely hot chilis have the ability to make your eyes water and leave you gasping—like how you might react to an onion, but a lot stronger,” said Janie Lamson, owner of Cross Country Nurseries, a mail-order nursery business located in Rosemont, New Jersey that specializes in chili and other pepper plants (e-mail, May 24, 2010). Lamson also shared that the Bhut Jolokia is her best seller: “It’s been number one for the past 4 years that we’ve offered it. Almost everyone has read about it, seen it on TV, or heard about it on public radio. Who doesn’t want to try the hottest in the world?”
The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Bhut Jolokia as the world’s hottest pepper in 2007,1,2,3 after New Mexico State University (NMSU) measured it at 1,001,304 Scoville heat units (SHUs, named after Wilbur Scoville, the first to measure chili heat).3,4 “That’s 3 times hotter than a habanero,” said Danise Coon, program coordinator of the NMSU Chile Pepper Institute and research specialist for the Chile Breeding Program (e-mail, May 19, 2010). By comparison, the relatively popular jalapeño peppers, a staple in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, measure only from 2,500 to 8,000 SHUs.1
The pepper itself has been traditionally used in India for stomach and digestive issues, as well as a way to raise body temperatures.1 “The brain perceives it as the same heat from fire,” said Coon. “This pepper is extremely hot.” In fact, another planned use by the military is to give it to soldiers deployed in cold weather.4
Scientists also plan to develop a powder of this chili to deter animals from entering army barracks and an aerosol version for use in self-defense and riot control.1,4
Those brave enough to consume this pepper might want to try a hot sauce named Holy JolokiaTM, sold by CaJohn’s Fiery Foods in Columbus, Ohio, though the sauce is diluted. Some of the proceeds from the sales of this hot sauce go to NMSU to fund chili pepper research.
—Kelly E. Lindner
- India weaponizes world’s hottest chili. Associated Press. March 23, 2010. Available at: www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/23/world/main6325665. shtml. Accessed March 25, 2010.
- GWR statement regarding Indian chili-eating event. Guinness Book of World Records website. Available at: http://community.guinnessworldrecords.com/_GWR-Statement-regarding-Indian-chilli-eating-event/blog/242062/7691.html. Accessed May 19, 2010.
- Bosland P, Baral J. ‘Bhut jolokia’–the world’s hottest known chile pepper is a putative naturally occurring interspecific hybrid. HortScience. 2007;42(2):222–224. Available at: www.chilepepperinstitute.org/files/tiny_mce/file_manager/educ_info/BhutJolokiaHortSciArt.pdf. Accessed May 19, 2010.
- Das B. Red hot chilli peppers come to India’s defense. Reuters. March 23, 2010. Available at: www.canada.com/technology/chilli+peppers+come+In dia+defence/2716394/story.html. Accessed March 25, 2010.
*Bhut Jolokia is Assamese for “ghost chili;” Assamese is a regional language in the state of Assam in northeastern India.