The second hottest chilli in the world
“Even if you are not a spice person, even if you don’t know much about chillies—everyone knows the ghost chilli,” says Magali Russie proudly, owner of Borough’s spice emporium Spice Mountain. And if you don’t know it, you’re in for a treat—and possibly a shock.
Cultivated in Nagaland, north-east India, its official name is the naga jolokia chilli. There are many explanations as to how its nickname came about. Some say it’s a mis-translation; others the fact its fearsome flavour ‘sneaks’ up on you. Or perhaps it’s simply because its heat strength is pretty damn scary.
At one time the ghost chilli was deemed the hottest in the world at more than 1,000,000 SHU (Scoville heat units, which indicate the amount by which it would need to be diluted to render it imperceptible). That’s a good 400 times hotter than tabasco. It’s hot.
So hot, in fact, it was traditionally used by Indian farmers to repel wayward elephants and more recently, by the Indian military in hand grenades. “So don’t overdo it!” Magali emphasises. “It is slow to take effect, so you don’t feel it straight away. But even though it’s really spicy, it doesn’t burn the mouth. You don’t get that sensation.”
At Spice Mountain, you’ll find it in several forms: whole, flaked, powdered and smoked. “The powdered is hottest because it’s concentrated, so it’s very intense,” she continues. “But over time it loses flavour. I much prefer whole chilli. It adds richness and thickens a sauce—just drop it in and it will rehydrate.” Used sparingly, it will not only lend a dish heat, but also give it “a nice fruity flavour”.
Ghost chillies can be used in just about anything that calls for chilli—“it’s a great all-rounder”. Depending on how much heat you can handle, try adding a whole chilli to a con carne sauce or marinade, let it infuse, then remove before serving. If you want to make a dish really spicy, leave it in the dish, and “crush it so it dissipates,” says Magali. “It will be very, very spicy!”
Devilish naga chicken
Magali suggests adding a “little pinch” of ghost chilli powder to mayonnaise, or using it to make a curry, such as this “devilish” naga chicken curry from chef Luke MacKay. Just be sure to have some crème fraiche to hand.
The ghost chilli has now apparently been superseded on the Scoville scale by the Carolina reaper. But despite being knocked off the top spot in terms of heat, it’s still the most popular chilli on the stall. “People know and trust it,” says Magali. “It’s a gorgeous chilli.”