Crazy-Hot Indian "Ghost" Chili Sticks It to Taste Buds, Elephants, Rioters…And Poverty

By Sophie Bushwick | August 1, 2012 6:03 pm

bhut jolokia

In 2007, the bhut jolokia, 100 times hotter than the average jalapeño, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s hottest chili…only to be dethroned in the book’s latest edition by the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T. Although the bhut jolokia has lost its world-record title, it’s recently found a more practical role: alleviating poverty in its home province of Assam.

At The Guardian, Helen Pidd describes how bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chili, became a lucrative crop for impoverished Assamese farmers when its world-record status drove fans of spicy foods to offer enormous sums for the fiery chili.

The Assamese government wanted in. Farmers were offered subsidies to cultivate the plant, with some famous tea gardens in upper Assam even getting in on the act. Trinity [a non-governmental organization] has selected another 2,000 Assamese farmers to grow the crop, said Nagen Talukdar, Trinity’s secretary, last week. There is serious money to be made for anyone with the wherewithal to preserve their crops – a kilo of dried bhut jolokia sells for about 1,800 rupees [$32.45], a fortune for the average farmer, who generally survives on a subsistence level, taking home 150 rupees [$2.70] a day.

But there are only so many people hoping to sear their taste buds into oblivion. Much of the demand for Assam’s ghost chili comes not from thrill-seekers, but from the Indian defense ministry. Capsaicin, the component of chilies that gives them their fiery feel, can be extracted from bhut jolokia and transformed into chili grenades capable of dispersing rioters and repelling elephants.

If you’ve got a burning desire to know more, check out the story at The Guardian.

Image courtesy of Xaime Méndez / Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
  • Oldtaku

    I’m growing these in my back yard just to get some fresh ones instead of dried and powdered. Like the habaneros, they’re much tastier (fruity/citrusy) than jalapenos. And quite safe from rabbits!

  • Mephane

    This article gives me some mixed feelings.

    First, because the plant does not “fight poverty”, it just is very lucrative for the first N farmers to jump on the bandwagon. As soon as every farmer would grow it in order to actively escape poverty, prices would plummet and none of the farmers would benefit. It’s the same with the constant talk about how education defeats poverty – that works on the individual level, but not on the collective; if everyone got a PHD then there still needs to be someone growing crops, cleaning the streets etc., they will be well-educated but still poor.

    Second, because they are turning the chili into weaponry. Sure it is non-lethal, but that does not make it automatically right, especially considering the very fact that they are non-lethal causes police to use them much more often than necessary, just because it is easier to throw pepper spray into someone’s face than to actually convince them to stand up and walk away (this actually happened, the photograph went around the world, where a protester was just sitting on the ground and a policeman stood leisurely in front of him and sprayed into his face).

  • floodmouse

    “. . . if everyone got a PHD then there still needs to be someone growing crops, cleaning the streets etc., they will be well-educated but still poor.”

    That’s me – well-educated, but poor. I had 6 years of college and a 4.0 average before I had to drop out to pay the bills. Now I’m doing the same job as high-school graduates. (Please don’t tell me to go back to school.)

    P.S. – If you’re still in college, don’t believe anything the career guidance people say. Do your own research.

  • solargroovy

    @Mephane, the first section of your response is factually correct, but misses the point and demonstrates the logical fallacy of a false utopia.

    First, you are correct in saying that after N producers, the price gained would decrease. You say ‘plummet’, but the economics of market equilibrium (absent an artificial bubble) would argue otherwise.

    However, you do not acknowledge that the value of N might be quite high and could take years to achieve. Perhaps only the first few farmers might make a windfall, but the prospect of lifting N families out of poverty is better than leaving everybody destitute.

    The fact that there is a military application for the crop indicates that the demand for the chili expands beyond the thrill-seekers and may indicate that it could become a commodity crop which would really raise the value of N.

    This means that the chili crop might be something that an agribusiness would try to scale, but with proper leadership a farming collective could still stay competitive. Best case would be that the ghost chili is labor intensive to cultivate which would discourage mass-production.

    Best of all, this is a renewable resource which means that even if at some point the bottom falls out of the market, the farmers haven’t destroyed their children’s future by selling a non-renewable resource for a quick, transitory profit.

  • James

    I grow these chillies on my windowsill. Ideal for when I want to pep up supper a bit. Food without chillies is boring and tasteless.

  • Pippa

    Employees wanted high school graduate employees. The education system made grade 12 easier so nearly everyone could get it, and it was then almost worthless. So that left students paying for their own basic education, because a degree was necessary for a good job instead of grade 12. Now they have dumbed down a degree in many ‘softer’ subjects, so you need post grad studies to get a half decent job. That takes almost a decade longer than grade 12 and leaves a pile of debt that has to be paid off. The parents of these students are the ones who’s savings are not worth much because compound interest does not work when interest rates are so low they are below inflation, and they probably paid as much as they could towards their childrens’ education which reduced savings anyway, so they cannot afford to retire. So that blocks any jobs which might have been available when they retired. The grandparents had it good – retired early and are busy swanning around in their ‘deserved’ retirement years – many of these years, as they live longer – thanks to taxes paid by their adult children. Need I point out that this is not sustainable. Like any intensive farming.

  • @Pippa

    You really think you need a post grad degree to get a decent job? Hahahaha.

    I’ll be sure to tell all the engineers, accountants, financial analysts, computer programmers, teachers, electricians, and carpenters that their jobs aren’t even half-decent.

  • Todd

    Mephane,

    Education doesn’t “cure” poverty because it offers individuals better job prospects (although, as you point out, it can do that). It reduces poverty because it increases a nation’s “portfolio” of people able to make better decisions regarding governance, as well as more people equipped to develop innovative solutions to problems.

    -Todd

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