Other sightings

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:

www.fiery-foods.com/dave/assam_chile.html
www.fiery-foods.com/dave/assam_chile1.html

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 border.

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:
http://drdo.nic.in/labs/dls/drl/achieve.shtml

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 the same.

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. frutescens.

Useful though the picture is, its quality isn’t quite 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 website.

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 website:

“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 by HPLC).

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 go to:
www.alibaba.com/productsearch/Chilli_Powder.html

Then scroll to the bottom and click on ‘World’s hottest chilli’.

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:

http://tejas.serc.iisc.ernet.in/currsci/may252005/1545.pdf

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 world.

Cutting a clear path through this murky world of the naga saga, we are sure of only two things. Firstly, we know that ‘Dorset 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.