Capsaicin is a chemical compound found in varying amounts in chili peppers. When it comes in contact with your skin or mucous membranes it produces a burning sensation. The amount of capsaicin in a specific species of pepper is measured using the Scoville scale, which chemist Wilbur Scoville developed in 1912 to measure how much a pepper capsaicin oil extract needed to be diluted until its heat is just barely detectable. Pure capsaicin measures 16,000,000 on the Scoville scale.
Bhut Jolokia Chili
At this time, the Bhut Jolokia chili holds the distinction of being the world’s hottest chili pepper. The Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University reports that the average capsaicin content of the Bhut Jolokia measures 1,001,304 Scoville units. That scorching pepper is commercially available for purchase and has been confirmed by the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the hottest pepper in the world. It is native to northeast India.
In 2010, the U.K. Daily Mail reported on the Naga Viper chili, an especially spicy pepper created by crossbreeding three of the spiciest varieties of peppers. Tests conducted at Warwick University confirmed that the Naga Viper beat the Bhut Jolokia chili in capsaicin content by measuring 1,359,000 Scoville units. However, the Chile Pepper Institute states that because the Naga Viper comes from a single plant created by English pub-owner Gerald Fowler and is not commercially available, so it can not officially be labeled as the hottest pepper in the world.
Habanero peppers are among the most capsaicin-rich chilies that are commonly available. A 2006 study published in the “Journal of Environmental Science and Health” found that Capsicum chinense, the genetic species habanero peppers are a part of, have the highest concentrations of capsaicin when compared to other peppers from the genus Capsicum. The Chile Pepper Institute reports that the average spice of an orange habanero is 210,000 Scoville units and the red habanero is 150,000 units. However, habanero chilies can sometimes exceed 300,000 units.
In the same 2006 study, Kentucky State University researchers found that peppers from the species Capsicum frutescens had the highest concentration of dihydrocapsaicin, a different alkaloid form of capsaicin. That group includes the Tabasco chili, which has a capsaicin concentration that gives it an average rating of 120,000 Scoville units. Other spicy peppers in the Capsicum frutescens species include the malagueta and Thai peppers.
- Journal of Environmental Science and Health: Screening Capsicum Accessions for Capsaicinoid Content"; George Antonious et al; June 2006
- The Complete Chile Pepper Book; Dave DeWitt and Paul W. Bosland; 2009
- Chile Pepper Institute: Questions About the Official World's Hottest Chile Pepper
- DailyMail.co.uk: World's Hottest Chili Grown in Tiny Cumbrian Greenhouse; Jaya Narain; December 2010