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4/14/2008

World's Hottest Pepper

Saga Jalokia, Bhut Jalokia, Naga Jalokia

This is my Ozarks Gardening newspaper column for this week. It appears in newspapers across the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. Copyright, Jim Long, 2008

No More Elephants in Your Garden!

Much like clothes and technology, plant fads sweep through the market. Some new plant comes along and everyone wants one. Think back to the so-called “mosquito plant” of a decade ago. Promoters claimed it would repel mosquitoes by simply planting a few around your deck or patio. It didn’t. Or the sweet-leaf plant (stevia) that everyone wanted. It actually does what it claims - sweeten foods without adding calories.

Two or three years back, the hot new plant was Salvia divinorum, or diviner’s sage. Supposedly used by shamans in Central America to see visions, it was soon being sold as a “drug for a legal high.” (It was quickly discovered the hallucinogenic properties weren’t that interesting and caused severe headaches, unpleasant side effects and occasional insanity by the user; several states have outlawed it's growing and sale).

About five years ago there were rumors circulating in plant forums on the internet of a new ghost chili that reportedly topped one million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). Previously the hottest chili on record, according to the Guiness World Records, had been the Savina habanero, rated at 570,000 SHUs. Later debate over whether the record was set with the raw pepper, or with the pepper oil has challenged the world record, however, and the pepper is now accepted as between 300,000 and 579,000 SHUs. (For comparison, the standard jalapeno rates at between 5,000 and 8,500 SHUs; the Savina comes in at 65 times as hot as a standard cayenne).

This so-called “new” pepper, comes from northeastern Assam, India, near the Equator where all of the hottest peppers originate around the globe and is also known by the names, “ghost chile,” and Bhut Jolokia. The University of Mexico has been testing this new pepper and was able to prove in 2007 that this was, indeed, the world’s hottest pepper. (In India, according to my friend Puneet, from New Delhi, this pepper is called "tatayyia mirch," which translated from Hindi, is "wasp chili," because he said, it is like having a very big wasp sting your tongue).

Why, you might wonder, would someone want to grow a hot pepper that is so hot no one can eat it without mixing it with a lot of other foods? When asked that question of the growers in India, we were told, besides eating the peppers, they are also ground up and made into a spray which is applied around crops and gardens to keep elephants out.

So there you are. If you want to be on the cutting edge with the most sought after plant this year, and be able to keep elephants out of your garden, too, you might want to plant some Naga Jolokia peppers. Be forewarned, however, the seeds are rare and those selling them are charging as much as $5 per seed with a minimum of ten seeds.

I’ll be letting you know here if this pepper really does keep elephants out of my garden. Since I’ve not had a problem with elephants before, I’m guessing the plant will do exactly what it claims!

Happy gardening! Questions or comments always welcome at Longcreekherbs@yahoo.com and through my website at www.Longcreekherbs.com.