The world’s 10 hottest chillies

By Beau Gamble 13 September 2011
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The world’s hottest chillies have been grown by Australians. Find out what makes the list of the top 10.

HOT CHILLI GROWERS ARE in an arms race to produce the hottest varieties – the sorts of chillies so explosive that they have to be handled with protective gear. In the last five years, five different varieties have taken out Guinness World Records for the hottest chilli – and the most recent to claim the title was produced right here in Australia.

The Trinidad Scorpion Butch Taylor made headlines in April 2011 when laboratory tests measured its heat at 1,463,700 Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). The Scoville scale is based on the content of capsaicin in chillies – the chemical that sets your mouth on fire. For comparison, the common green Jalapeno measures around 2500-5000 SHUs and the hottest Tabasco is 30,000.

The hottest of the hot – nine of the top chillies on this list – all hail from a single species native to Central America and the Caribbean called Capsicum chinense. But within this species is a remarkable diversity of shapes, colours, flavours and potency, and with ever-improving breeding and growing techniques, farmers will continue to cultivate new, record-breaking chillies. So here are the world’s 10 hottest varieties:

1.    Trinidad Scorpion Butch Taylor

1,463,700 SHUs

Officially the hottest chilli ever known, the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T is described by cultivator Marcel de Wit as “just severe, absolutely severe”. Marcel is co-owner of Australian business The Chilli Factory, and began cultivating the variety two years ago on the NSW Central Coast. Marcel and his team use the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T as a basis for a hot sauce, and say that to cook it requires full chemical masks and protection suits. The secret to its explosiveness? ‘Worm juice’ fertiliser.

2.     Naga Viper and Scorpion cultivars

1,250,000 to 1,350,000 SHUs

Cultivated in Cumbria, England, by chilli farmer Gerald Fowler, the Naga Viper is a three-way cross between the Bhut Jolokia, Naga Morich, and Trinidad Scorpion varieties, which also gave rise to the Butch T. “It doesn’t get you instantly but the fire will burn for an hour and sit in your belly,” Gerald told British newspaper The Independent. “Then your stomach will hurt for the rest of the day.” He credited Cumbria’s wet weather with creating such a scorching chilli.

3.     Infinity

1,200,000 to 1,250,000 SHUs

Appropriately named for its never-ending burn, the Infinity held the title of world’s hottest chilli for just two weeks before it was usurped by the Naga Viper. Cultivator Nick Woods developed the hot chilli in Lincolnshire, England, by accidentally crossing existing varieties. He says the trick to growing them so hot is tending to the plants as little as possible.

4.     7 Pods

1,100,000 to 1,200,000 SHUs

Like the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, the 7 Pod varieties (also known as 7 Pot) originate from Trinidad in the southern Caribbean. From a bright yellow, pineapple-flavoured variety to a chocolate-coloured counterpart, 7 Pods are some of the rarest chillies on the planet. Their name reflects the notion that a single 7 Pod chilli is fiery enough to heat seven pots of stew.

5.    The Nagas: Bhut Jolokia, Bih Jolokia, Naga Jolokia, Naga Morich, Dorset Naga

900,000 to 1,100,000 SHUs

Nagas have been cultivated in India and parts of neighbouring Bangladesh for centuries. They are so hot that the Indian army has developed them as a weapon, using their extract to create a blinding chilli grenade. Depending on the specific region they are grown, Nagas are known by many names: Bhut Jolokia, Naga Jolokia, Bih Jolokia or the Naga Morich. But one of the hottest ever recorded Nagas was grown not in Asia but in the county of Dorset, England, by Michael and Joy Michaud. They grew the Dorset Naga from Bangladeshi varieties by selecting plants that bore the most unusual wedge-shaped fruits.

6.    Nagabon and Habanaga

800,000 SHUs

Nagabons are a cross between Nagas and Scotch Bonnets. The Hippy Seed Company in NSW wanted a very large, very hot chilli to use in sauces, so they combined the heat of the Naga Jolokia with the large size of the Scotch Bonnet. The Habanaga, on the other hand, was reportedly created by accident last year, when a student at New Mexico University mistakenly crossed Nagas with Habaneros.

7.    Red Savina Habanero

577,000 SHUs

At more than 100 times the spiciness of a Jalapeno, the Red Savina Habanero held the Guinness World Record for hottest chilli from 1994 to February 2007, when it was overtaken by the Nagas. Frank Garcia, who is credited with developing the Red Savina in California, has kept the method of its propagation a closely guarded secret.

8.     Habaneros: Chocolate, Caribbean, Orange

250,000 to 450,000 SHUs

Few Habanero varieties approach the heat of the Red Savina, but the Chocolate, Caribbean and Orange come close. The Chocolate Habanero, named not for its flavour but for its rich brown colour, is perhaps the hottest of the three, with reports of up to 450,000 SHUs. Habaneros are believed to have originated from Cuba; the name Habanero translates literally from Spanish to ‘from Havana’ – Cuba’s capital city. But from here they were exported to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, where most Habaneros are grown today.

9.    Other Habaneros and Scotch Bonnets

100,000 to 250,000 SHUs
Habaneros and Scotch Bonnets are close relatives within the species Capsicum chinense, though they have distinct flavours. These and other members of the species thrive in hot weather and have spread from Central America to many other warm parts of the world, including West Africa and the US. One bite out of a common Habanero or Scotch Bonnet would be enough to induce tears in all but the most diehard chilli-heads.

10.  Bird’s eyes, Tabascos, Tepins

<100,000 SHUs

Last on the list but still packing a punch, these three varieties don’t belong to Capsicum chinense, though they too originated from Central America. Bird’s eye chillies are a variety of the species Capsicum frutescens and have spread widely across South-East Asia, where they’ve become a staple ingredient in many dishes. Tabasco chillies are close relatives of the Bird’s eye and are well-known in North America for the famous sauce of the same name. The tiny Tepin chilli belongs to a different species again (Capsicum annum) and is the smallest on the list, growing only to the size of a hazelnut.