29 July, 2021

Global Warming

The cold war over the hottest chilli in the world

Global Warming

It was a tasty newsbyte 10 years ago: “Tezpur Chilli Hottest in the World.” According to reports at the time, four Indian scientists had found a northeastern chilli rated at 855,000 Scoville units—a forest fire of piquancy compared to the feeble flame of the next contender, the Mexican Red Savina Habanero (a mere 577,000 Scoville units). The Scoville rating measures the quantity of capsaicin, a compound that binds with pain receptors ordinarily triggered by heat and abrasion.

For a nation poised on the verge of economic liftoff but still hungry for global recognition, it seemed like the redressal of a historical wrong. It was the colonial invasion of the South American capsicum species that upstaged Indian black pepper (or Piper nigrum) as the hottest commodity on the planet. We welcomed it graciously of course, and even pretended it was a relation of our kaali mirch (black pepper—chillies are laal mirch or red pepper).

In time we became the world’s largest producers (and consumers) of the chilli. And now,...

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