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The 12 Hottest Chili Peppers EVER!

The 12 Hottest Chili Peppers EVER!

In case you haven’t noticed, “hot” is IN right now, and by that I mean hot and spicy food. If you don’t believe me, just turn on The Food Network and you’ll quickly notice the growing number of programs dedicated to the subject. As Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain both trek across the globe sampling the culinary offerings of specific cities and countries, the viewers are more frequently exposed to watching them ingest some of the spiciest offerings the specific locales can dish up. Turn on Man vs. Food and you’ll likely see Adam Richmond attempting to get his picture on the “Wall of Fame” by devouring an insanely hot food challenge in the allotted period of time. I personally couldn’t be happier with the rising popularity of fiery-foods because I’ve been a fan myself for the better part of three decades. However, before you attempt to add some sizzle to your next meal you’d be well advised to familiarize yourself with the heat and flavor characteristics of hot chili peppers – otherwise, it could spell for disaster in the kitchen.

First it’s important to understand what causes chilies to pack a punch. Capsaicin is a chemical compound found in chili peppers. While the fruit of the pepper itself can be extremely hot, capsaicin is typically most concentrated in the membranes and seeds of the pepper. In the early 1900′s, chemist Wilbur Scoville created the Scoville Heat Unit scale which measures the amount of capsaicin present in a hot pepper. A pepper with a S.H.U level of 30,000 would require a dilution rate of 30,000 parts water to 1 part capsaicin in order for there to be no detectable presence of heat. The hottest pepper currently on record has a heat index of 1,041,427 S.H.U. That being said, it becomes readily apparent that it’s easy to go overboard on the amount, or type, of peppers used in a meal.

New hybrids and cultivars of peppers are continually being introduced which makes it nearly impossible to quantify just how many different varieties of hot peppers exist. To simplify things, I’ve created a list of the top twelve most common peppers which I humorously like to refer to as “The Dirty Dozen”. At the top of the list the Naga Bhut Jolokia reigns supreme with over one million Scoville Units. The Naga Jolokia is often referred to by several different names of which Ghost Pepper is one. Needless to say, if you’re not careful with this pepper you’ll either end up seeing ghosts – or becoming one yourself.

Next on the list is the Red Savina which interestingly held the World Record for heat until it was dethroned by the Naga Bhut Jolokia in 2007. The highest heat score for the Red Savina was recorded at 580,000 S.H.U. Even with the increased amount of attention spicy food is now enjoying, neither the Jolokia or Red Savina are household names, but the the next chili on the list certainly has become one.

In my opinion, the Habanero has single-handedly lead the way for the worlds newfound fascination with fiery-food. The habanero is a deliciously hot pepper that even corporate giants like Doritos, Nally’s and many others have embraced with open arms. During the mid to late 1990′s, the habanero slowly but surely became the posterchild for hot and spicy, whereas prior to that the jalapeano held the title. My how times have changed! The jalapeano isn’t even on my list of the top 12 peppers, although if I were to make it a “Baker’s Dozen” it would make the grade.

Another interesting attribute of hot chilies is that some of them have actually come to define the culinary taste of specific regions around the world. There is no better example of this than with the Scotch Bonnet and it’s association with Caribbean cuisine. The Scotch Bonnet is my favorite due primarily to the fact that it has an absolutely delicious, unmistakeable flavor and it’s neither too hot or too mild (at least not for my taste). The Scotch Bonnet is the primary pepper featured in Jerk cooking most often associated to the island of Jamaica but prevelent elsewhere in the Caribbean too. On your travels to the islands you’d be hard-pressed to find a bottle of hot sauce that doesn’t capture the tasty nectar of this pepper.

While the Scotch Bonnet hails from the West Indies, the next chili in the Dirty Dozen is the Fatalii, originating from Africa. The Fatalli is just slightly less potent than the Habanero and Scotch Bonnet, with a S.H.U. range of 125,000 to 325,000. Frankly, the Fatalii chili is the least common on my list of the top twelve, in fact I’ve yet to find it available in any marketplace. This, however, may simply be the result of the area of the country in which I live.

To save time and to round out the list of the hottest peppers, I am listing them here in descending order: Chiltepin, Thai (Bird’s Eye), Aji’, Cayenne, Tabasco, Chile de Arbol, and Serrano.

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