Do you like your chilies hot? For the spiciest, tongue-burning experience yet, head for Assam –
that’s where the hottest chilies are grown.
For years, Mexico’s ‘Red Savina Habanero’ was believed to be the hottest chili in the world.
But now a chili grown in Tezpur, Assam, in northeastern India, is being touted as the hottest
chili ever. And coming from a state, which is better known for its tea than its chilies, this
discovery has caused quite a stir.
The ‘hotness’ of chilies comes from the compound called capsaicin located in the white tissue,
which holds the seeds. When you stir fry chilies this compound is released and can take your
breath away. Scraping away the tissue and removing the seeds reduces the hot flavour of
The Tezpur chili is nearly 50 per cent spicier than the Mexican chili as it has the highest
Scoville units of pure capsaicin. The Scoville scale is named after German scientist, Wilbur
Scoville, who was the first to measure the heat component in chilies. The Indian chili was
discovered to contain 855,000 Scoville units vis-à-vis the Mexican chili, which
contains only 557,000 Scoville units of pure capsaicin.
Chilies belong to the Solanaceae family, as do potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants. Chilies were
first cultivated in Peru and Bolivia over 7000 years ago and were widely grown in Central and
South America. The Spanish explorer, Christopher Columbus, took some chilies back to Spain in
1493. He though they were black pepper, and his mistake resulted in chilies being
dubbed ‘chili peppers’.
Did you know that chilies are addictive? That is because it increases the production of
endorphins (the body’s natural pain-relieving hormones), which in turn produce a feeling of
well-being. The burning feeling on your tongue (due to the capsaicin)
causes messages to be sent to your brain, to release endorphins. The endorphins
thus released give you some relief.
Fresh chilies have twice the amount of Vitamin C found in citrus fruits. When dried,
the Vitamin A content increases as much as one hundred fold. Hot chilies (like the Habanero
variety) contain about 357 per cent more Vitamin C than oranges. Chili is mildly
antibacterial and is an excellent gargle for sore throats and laryngitis. In
Victorian England, chili peppers were prized for their warming properties
in treating arthritis, chills, rheumatism, sprains and depression.
India is the biggest exporter of chilies – the most popular drug-herb – in the
world today. It is estimated that about 80 per cent of people ensure chilies
are a regular part of their diet.