The Scoville scale, SHUs &
the Hottest Chilli in the World
So let's cut to the chase... What's the hottest chilli in the World, I can hear you ask. Well, in recent years the answer has seemed to be a moveable feast. So before we answer the question that is asked over 50,000 times a year, let's find out what the accolade "hottest chilli in the World" really means!
Why Are Chilli Peppers Hot?
Chilli peppers gain their intensity when eaten primarily due to the chemical "capsaicin" (or 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, if you want to be pedantic about it!). However, there are also several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.
When consumed, capsaicinoids bind with your pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are responsible for sensing heat. Once activated by the capsaicinoids, these receptors send a message to the brain that the person has consumed something hot. The brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins.
The Scoville Scale & Chilli Intensity
The effective heat of chili peppers is measured in Scoville heat units (or SHU); this is defined as the number of times a chili extract needs to be diluted in water for it to lose its heat. At the lowest end of the scale are bell peppers, ranking at 0 SHU. New Mexico green chilis rate at about 1,500 SHU, jalapeños between 3,000-6,000 SHU and habanero peppers top out at 300,000 SHU. Pure capsaicin, which is a hydrophobic, colorless, odorless and crystalline-to-waxy solid at room temperature, measures 16,000,000 SHU.
The Hottest Chilli in the World: Contenders
Trinidad Viper Chilli
Recently measured at 1,382,118 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units), the Naga Viper chilli from The Chilli Pepper Company is currently the reigning hottest chilli in the world. Tested by the Warwick University HRI Life Sciences team, the record-breaking heat is a big jump from the previous record-holder, the Infinity Chilli and a little closer to the 16 million Scoville Units maximum. The Warwick University team were quoted as saying "it's hot enough to strip paint!"
The Infinity Chilli was tested and confirmed by Warwick University as a eye-watering 1,067,286 Scoville units, but was subsequently overtaken on the Scoville scale by the Spanish Naga. However, the September 2010 crop proved to be even hotter at 1,176,182 Scoville units, pushing it into first place as the hottest chilli pepper in the World. Now superseded by the Naga Viper, Fire Foods team that bred this hot chilli look forward to next year's crop! The Lincolnshire team at Fire Foods are Woody Woods and Matt Simpson in Grantham.
The Gibralta / Spanish Naga
The Gibralta Naga, AKA the Spanish Naga, AKA the ChilliPepperPete Naga has been tested at Warwick University at a tongue-meltingly hot 1,086,844 Scoville Units; once the hottest pepper tested, this gives the Gibralta Naga second place on the Scoville scale.
More about the Gibralta Naga chilli...
The Bhut Jolokia chilli is a fruit of many names; also known as "the Ghost chilli", the Bih Jolokia, the Serpent chilli, the Naga Jolokia or Naga Morich. Whatever you want to call this capsicum, it's a got a reputation to precede it. At a whopping 1,041,427 Scoville units, the chilli pepper holds the 2nd place position for the World's hottest chilli pepper. It was in fact regarded as the most potent of the chilli World until early in 2010. The chilli is over 100 times hotter than a jalapeño chilli and 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.
The Dorset Naga, a chilli grown in Dorset, UK, claimed to be the hottest in the World, measuring a Scoville heat unit of 876,000 in 2006.
Other Chilli Peppers
There are hundreds of pepper-varieties; click here to view a comprehensive list of chilli peppers.
Uses for Capsaicin
We've all eated chilli of some intensity that, however hardened to a hot curry we are, has left us in a sweat, running desperately for a cold drink! This immobilising property has been put to use around the World, in particular in pepper spray; Capsaicin is the primary ingredient.
Similarly, the Indian army have employed the Bhut Jolokia pepper in tear-gas grenades, which is emitted amongst a cloud of smoke, as an anti-terrorism tool.
Capsaicin actually causes pain (as we've all discovered in the past!), but after repeated application, desensitisation occurs. High concentrations can actually block nerve function (often used by psysiologist in the study of pain in the human body) and result in long lasting sensory deficits. In other words, your pain sensors stop working and your tolerance to the capsaicin (i.e. chilli) increases. Hence we chilli nuts love to try hotter and hotter recipes!