In the hills of northeastern India, it’s called the "bhut jolokia" – the "ghost chile." Anyone who has tried it, they say, could end up an apparition. "It is so hot you can’t even imagine," said the farmer, Digonta Saikia. "When you eat it, it’s like dying."
Outsiders, he insisted, shouldn’t even try it. "If you eat one," he told a visitor, "you will not be able to leave this place."
The smallest morsels can flavor a sauce so intensely it’s barely edible. Eating a raw sliver causes watering eyes and a runny nose. An entire chile is an all- out assault on the senses, akin to swigging a cocktail of battery acid and glass shards.
For generations, though, it’s been loved in India’s northeast, eaten as a spice, a cure for stomach troubles and, paradoxically, a way to fight the summer heat.
A chile’s spiciness can be scientifically measured by calculating its content of capsaicin, the chemical that gives a pepper its bite, and counting its Scoville units.
And how hot is the bhut jolokia? As a way of comparison: Classic Tabasco sauce ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units. Your basic jalapeño measures anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000. The previous record holder, the Red Savina habanero, was tested at up to 580,000 Scovilles.
The bhut jolokia crushed those contenders, testing at 1,001,304 Scoville units.