With its attractive fruit, strong fruity
aroma and exceptionally high heat levels, it is just beginning
to dawn on us what a special pepper ‘Dorset Naga’ is.
But exactly what is it? It is certainly a Capsicum chinense selected
from the Banladeshi ‘Naga Morich’, but beyond that, we’re
not quite sure what we have.
Having said that, it could be the same chilli described in an
article printed in the journal Current Scientist on
10th August, 2000 (http://tejas.serc.iisc.ernet.ni/-currsci/aug102000/scr974.pdf).
In it, scientists from Tezpur (a town in the north eastern Indian
state of Assam), claimed to have found a local chilli that measured
855,000 SHU when tested by HPLC (high pressure liquid chromatography).
They identified the chilli as being a Tezpur variety called ‘Nagahari’,
which they said is a Capsicum frutescens.
The results were debunked by chilli expert Dave Dewitt who manages
an email newsletter called Fiery-Foods.com. Dave put
forward a convincing argument that explained why the heat level
was suspect. To see the full story (including a link to the original
Indian article), take a look at his email newsletters:
In light of the heat levels recorded for
Dorset Naga, however, we now suspect the results the Indian
scientists reported are genuine, and possibly their ‘Nagahari’ and our ‘‘Dorset
Naga’/‘Naga Morich’ are the same chilli (note
the strong emphasis on ‘possibly’). The facts as
we know them are as follows:
• ‘Nagahari’ and ‘Dorset
Naga’ both have very high heat levels.
• Both ‘Nagahari’ and ‘Naga
Morich’ (the source of ‘Dorset Naga’) have,
more or less, the same name.
• ‘Nagahari’ and ‘Naga
Morich’ come the same part of the Indian subcontinent:
Tezpur is only about 185 km (110 miles) from the Bangladeshi
So far, so good. And it gets even better.
A report coming out of the laboratory where the Indian scientists
worked show a picture of a ripe fruit of ‘Nagahari’.
This can be seen on:
Both the ‘Nagahari’ fruit in the picture and that
of ‘Dorset Naga’ are red when ripe, and their fruit
shapes are vaguely similar. The ‘Nagahari’ is more
top-shaped than ‘Dorset Naga’, though this difference
could be due to natural variations in the ‘Naga’ population,
so it is not necessarily a mark against the two chillies being
This leads nicely into a discussion on
the discrepancy in species classification. ‘Dorset Naga’ is
a C. chinense while
the Indian paper stated that ‘Nagahari’ was a C.
frutescens. However, even a cursory look at the fruit in
the picture on the website of the report shows that this is clearly
not right: ‘Nagahari’ is definitely not a C.
Useful though the picture is, its quality
good enough to say for sure which species ‘Nagahari’ is.
Nevertheless, there is other evidence supporting the possibility
that is it actually a C. chinense. A reporter, responding
to the Indian research, went to Tezpur to find the ‘world’s
hottest chile [sic]’. The subsequent article included a
less-than-ideal photo of the fruit. Dave DeWitt identified the
chilli in this photo as C. chinense (see www.fiery-foods.co,/dave/assam_chile2.asp).
This chilli was reddish when ripe and had a fruit shape vaguely
similar to ‘Dorset Naga’.
It would certainly make a nice story if ‘Nagahari’ and ‘Dorset
Naga’ originated from the same source. The ‘Naga
saga’, unfortunately, is not that straight forward, and
there are several issues that need to be resolved. How, for example,
did the name ‘Nagahari’ in the original Indian paper
evolve into ‘Naga Jolokia’, a name commonly used
by websites and seed companies when referring to that chilli?
Likewise, the name ‘PC-1’ seems to be another synonym,
but what is the origin of that name? Confusing this issue still
further, there are websites with pictures (see http//petterssononline.com and www.g6csy.net/chile/var-n.html) that show fruit of Naga Jolokia
to be long and thin, not the top-shaped fruit seen on the Indian
As if there isn’t enough obfuscation, there is a spice
company in Assam that is selling what they claim to be the ‘world’s
hottest chilli’ in dry and powdered forms. To quote the
“We have a great chilli type locally known as ‘bhut
jalakia’ or ‘raja mirchi’ (ghost or poison
chilli) which is cultivated in assam and nagaland [sic]…The
chilli is known to be the ‘hottest chilli in the world’ (with
about 1041427 scoville heat units [sic] as determined
This website also has a picture, but it is not clear whether
it is of the chilli they are selling. The site includes a phone
number for anyone wanting to clear things up. To find it, first
Then scroll to the bottom and click on ‘World’s
Adding to the confusion is a second paper that was published
in Current Scientist on 25th May, 2005. In this paper
researchers, working in a different part of Indian, reported
on heat tests conducted on three varieties of chillies: ‘Nagahari’, ‘Naga
Jolokia’ and ‘Pusa Sadabahar’. Referring to ‘Nagahari’ and ‘Naga
Jolokia’ within the same trial certainly implies that
they are different chillies, and that the names are not synonymous.
The paper also seems to describe the ripe fruit of ‘Nagahari’ as
being yellowish coloured rather than red, and having a heat level
(measured in the content of capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin) that
was much lower than the one described in the original paper published
in 2000. An out-of-focus picture of ‘Nagahari’ included
in the paper is not much use for identification purposes. To
see the paper, go to the following:
One last thing concerning this paper: ‘Naga Jolokia’ and ‘Pusa
Sadabahar’ had heat levels that were exceptionally hot,
though this point wasn’t highlighted by the authors. We’re
not sure what exactly what is going on, and chilliheads of an
obsessive nature could spend a lifetime sorting out the internet
sightings – many of them dodgy – of
what is becoming the Loch Ness Monster/Big Foot/Yeti of the pepper
Cutting a clear path through this murky world
of the naga saga, we are sure of only two things. Firstly, we know
Naga’ was selected from the Bangladeshi Naga Morich (which
may or may not be ‘Nagahari’, which may or may not
be ‘Naga Jolokia’, which may or may not be ‘PC-1’);
and, secondly, that our ‘Dorset Naga’ is very hot.