Mad about chillies

The Indian palate and plating are changing. And in this change, the traditional finds itself transformed to give it a traditional contemporary flavour. The latest to don this avatar is India’s hottest chilli: bhut jolokia (ghost pepper). The tiny, shrivelled red chilli’s appearance belies its extreme pungency and heat; it is a connoisseur’s choice.

For most consumers, craving for bhut jolokia means asking friends from the North East to haul it in on their next week. But now, innovation and value addition have transformed it from a local crop revered in the North East, to something widely exotic, which can be used off the shelf. Its use need not be restricted to traditional recipes: the gourmet, the homemaker and the amateurish can experiment with it.

So bhut jolokia is available whole, in powder form, as flakes, as pickles, and yes, as a sauce. The bhut jolokia sauce is a heady concoction which adds more than just a zing to the dish — be it momos, samosas or chicken wings (that combination has its set of droolers). Leading the innovation bandwagon in its manufacture are a host of young entrepreneurs or foodies. One such is Soumyadipta Roy of Lunar Agro Chemicals, who is marketing products of Naga Spices and Herbs made in a place called Senapati in Manipur. The brand Poumai, is named after the tribe that the producer Paul Longsaola hails from. Their sauce is made using a combination of bhut jolokia paste — 25% in combination with vinegar, sugar and salt etc.

While the barely three-year-old, Meghalaya-based startup Zizira has a couple of products on offer, equally interesting is the offering from ENE — East by Northeast — set up by Manjusha Barua. She has three variants of the bhut jolokia sauce — sweet, hot and extra hot. The reason for these variants as she explains, “I want people to taste bhut jolokia; so the mild one to the medium and extremely hot one.”

Mad about chillies

Buoyed by the success, she has a bhut jolokia mayonnaise spread and bhut jolokia chilli oil in the pipeline. The chilli oil can be used to spice up homemade pastas and other Italian preparations. While the sauce is made from pure pulp with flavouring ingredients, the chilli oil is whole bhut jolokia soaked in oil, so pungent that a drop is deadly. Sprig, which also sells several gourmet products, has its sauce variant, while Pico India has the ghost pepper sauce in its range of sauces.

With the growing use of chilli flakes in cooking, bhut jolokia chilli flakes are available in plenty in stores and, of course, online, including at The common way of drying the chilli in the villages is on heated wood. This gives it a natural smoked flavour, but the moisture content is 14-15%. In the electrical dried chillies, it is reduced to 5% or so. This increases the shelf life of the raja mirchi. Of course, comparing the taste of the two is like comparing tandoori rotis with those made on an electric tandoor. A sign of pungency of bhut jolokia is when it turns from green to red. Pickled bhut jolokia has always been a favourite.

What works for many of these entrepreneurs is pure passion for local produce. Roy was a pilot in the US for three years, before he moved back. Seeing the potential for hot chillies in European markets, he has been working in remote areas of northeastern India to process agro products. It also provides livelihood for the locals. Barua, on the other hand, moved from corporate communications at Indian Oil to promote the huge vegetarian offerings from the region.

So how hot is bhut jolokia? Laughingly, Roy says that the sauce, even with 25% paste, is very hot, and a 100% paste of bhut jolokia knocks him out! If one finds it too hot, as an antidote he opines, “drink cold milk: it provides instant relief. Anything hot taken with it aggravates it.”

Image matters Bhut jolokia is the third hottest chilli in the world, at 1001304 Scoville Heat Units. Carolina Reapers, the world’s hottest with an SHU of over 2 million, is a cross of bhut jolokia and red habanero. In Nagaland, bhut jolokia is called naga mirchi.

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    Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 2:16:01 AM |

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