The Best Food Blog Ever Meets The Hottest Chile Pepper Ever
(If the video is all stuttery, you can switch to HD Off and it will play much more smoothly)
Shortly after arriving on the exhibit floor of the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Convention Center, having progressed through Argentina and Mexico, we came upon the booth for Blair’s Death Sauces and Snacks. It was festively decorated in the way that heavy black cloth, skulls, flames, and madness tend to liven up things.
As we passed in front of the booth, a woman extended a tray of spicy potato chips for my perusal. I would have sampled a few, but my attention was immediately drawn to Blair Lazar, who had a ceramic knife in one hand and a wooden cutting board in the other, liberally coated with the dark crimson shards of a dried chile pepper. With all of the flair of a carnival hawker who already knows the outcome of your gamble, Blair was offering tastes of his newest product, a smoked and dried Bhut Jolokia chile pepper. His eyes locked on me, and he beckoned me forth with the tip of the knife waving in the air in front of him. “Come try the Bhut Jolokia,” he shouted above the din, “the hottest chile pepper on the planet!”
We had only just arrived at the show, and I had forty-five aisles of samples yet to come. I really wasn’t keen on trying the pepper, even though I’m a fan of spicy food, but when you have a food blog, a video camera, and Blair Lazar himself offers you a smoked Bhut Jolokia chile pepper, I realized that there’s really no other option other than to rise to the challenge. Not familiar with the Bhut Jolokia? Read on.
The Bhut Jolokia is native to India and is officially classified by scientific authorities and the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chile pepper. It is also known as the Naga Jolokia and the Ghost Pepper – presumably because after eating one, your soul just vaporizes out of your pores, leaving you an empty, smoldering shell.
The standard measure of the spice level of a chile pepper is the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). A typical jalapeno pepper measures around 10,000 SHUs. An orange habanero pepper, one of the hottest of that variety, clocks in at 357,729 SHUs, which would surely test the tolerance of the most dedicated chile aficionado. By comparison, the Bhut Jolokia pepper blows the curve completely, measuring at an astounding 1,001,304 units of heat. Indian defense scientists are looking to use the Bhut Jolokia extract in grenades for riot control purposes. In paste form, the Bhut Jolokia is used to repel elephants. I am not joking.
We turned on the camcorder and started recording. A small crowd had gathered in front of the booth, spectating in the same way that one would watch NASCAR for the fiery crashes.
Blair tipped the knife, and a small fragment of Bhut Jolokia cascaded into the palm of my hand. I gave it a cursory examination, sniffed at it, then tucked it into a corner of my mouth like chewing tobacco.
As with most chile peppers, there’s a certain delay before the true onset of spice on the tongue. Blair, ever the showman, narrated cheerfully as my Bhut Jolokia sample began to unravel its mysteries upon my palate. I chewed the Bhut Jolokia once, twice…then everything in my world turned white-hot. The Bhut Jolokia had opened up like an angry bronco unleashed from its pen. The Bhut Jolokia is fury.
With most hot peppers, the burn begins as a tingle on your tongue that, for particularly spicy chiles, escalates to discomfort within a few seconds. The Bhut Jolokia is unlike any other – the entire right side of my face flashed numb with pain just as soon as the burn hit, the heat radiating from the spot in my cheek, spreading across my face and down my neck. While other peppers come on like an upward slope, the Bhut Jolokia takes off like a rocket, only this rocket incinerates the launch pad and every single living creature within five miles of it. It’s a nuclear detonation inside of your mouth.
It was imperative that I refrain from panicking. This is, of course, more easily said than done, because panic is your body’s first reaction to the incredible pain that visits upon your senses as you realize that this, truly, is the spiciest thing that you will have ever tasted in your lifetime. Panic, thought, would only lead to breathing faster, possibly to the point of hyperventilation, which only causes more air to move across your tongue, which serves to magnify the burn even more. I willed myself into a Zen state of calm, breathing as normally as I could muster as the oils from the Bhut Jolokia tormented my senses in an unbridled, full-on assault. Beads of sweat began forming on my brow as I rode out the pain, every second bringing heretofore undiscovered levels of spice.
It’s also crucial, surprisingly, to avoid drinking any water for the duration of the burn, a critical error committed by many novice pepper eaters. Oil and water don’t mix, so the only effect of downing a bottle of water would be to distribute the volatile oils throughout your mouth, spreading them around your tongue, your cheeks, and down your esophagus. The only thing that defeats a Bhut Jolokia is time. Actually, let me amend that – the only thing that defeats Bhut Jolokia is time and massive quantities of ripened soft cheeses. It’s a very good thing that we were at the Fancy Food Show and surrounded on all sides by breads, cheese, and crackers. After about fifteen minutes, and several samples of brie, the pain that had been so intense at the start had subsided to a gentle simmer, enough to allow me to continue my tour of the exhibit floor.