All chilli peppers are not created equal – while most people think nothing of slicing a supermarket chilli to add heat to a curry, there are other people who enjoy eating as many of the hottest chillies in the world for pure sport.
What’s the hottest chilli pepper in the world? The Scoville Scale ranks chillies from the mildest (Pimento, Jalapeno and Peppadew) to the hottest and meanest: the HP56 Death Stain, a knobbly pock-marked chilli that looks like a deformed Scotch Bonnet, has tested at almost 3 million units making it the hottest chilli in the world at the time of writing – and it has become the stuff of chilli legend. You’ll find a list of chillies and their heat values here.
Every few years, someone breeds a new chilli and tries to beat the record for heat. Just to give you a few examples of how competitive the killer chilli pepper space is:
– According to Smithsonian.com, the Naga Bhut Joloki or ‘Ghost Pepper Chilli’ was named the hottest pepper in the world in 2007. (The Ghost chilli is called that because apparently, it makes you want to give up the ghost once you’ve eaten it. See our video above of three guys competing for the Guinness World Record for eating the most Ghost Peppers in 2 minutes).
– In 2012 the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend which rates 2 million heat units on the Scoville Scale beat them both to win the world title only to find itself bypassed by the HP56 Death Stain.
How do you measure the heat of a chilli? The heat of a chilli is measured using a method called high performance liquid chromatography – scientists measure how many parts per million of heat-causing alkaloids are in the chilli, they multiply that figure by 16 and that’s how they calculate the Scoville rating.
Types of chillies you want to cook with (rather than show off your macho credentials)
The hottest chillies are really for sport, rather than cooking. Anything that hot will blind your tastebuds to other flavours. What you need for cooking is something that will deliver heat without masking other ingredients.
Birds eye chilli is native to Mexico and is found all over Asia. They are very hot, even for cooking at home, so use them carefully and remove the seeds if you want to tone them down. This is the chilli to use in green or red curries. You’ll find them most often in Asian supermarkets and they are excellent for making chilli oil because there are small enough to fit into the jar.
Jalapeño or green chilli peppers are the most common and you’ll find these in supermarkets. They range from mild to very hot when they are dried. They are called chipotle peppers when they are smoked and dried. Because they are quite large, they can be stuffed with meat and cheese and deep-fried. You’ll also find them in jars pickled in vinegar and they are most often used in Mexican cooking.
Scotch Bonnet chilies are one of the highest-rated on the Scoville Scale, measuring between 100,000–350,000 units. They are named because they look like the Scottish Tom O’Shanter hat. Use sparingly and never eat a whole one unless you know what you are doing.
Finger chilies are the little long slim chilli that you find in Thai and Indian cooking – you’re most likely find them in an Asian shop wrapped in a cellaphane pack.