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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   4 min read

Half tourist jaunt, half gastronomic adventure… discover these little spicy bombs that grow in exotic and far off destinations. Taste with caution however, and take care not to bite more than you can bargain for.

If you’ve tasted one of these devils before you know exactly what I’m talking about. To swallow one of these peppers may seem harmless enough, but what ensues is what travel memories are made of. Keep a video camera nearby, we assure you it’ll be hilarious (as long as you’re not the one with a burning pepper in your throat). Let’s take the pepper route through India, Asia, Africa and on to South America.

Naga Jolokia pepper – India


Warning! This is the strongest pepper in the world… at least according to the Guinness Book of World Records. With a force of 1,000,000 units on the Scoville scale (see below), Tabasco is a wimpy 6,000 beside this spicy monster. Boys, step up it’s time to prove your manhood. Surprisingly it’s a woman who holds the record for eating 50 of these chillies in 2 minutes flat. How this story ended, nobody knows…

There are a number of different varieties but the main ones are the Buth Jolokia and the Naga Jolokia. They original from the north-east of India, in the Assam region. Today they grow in a number of different areas of the country (Nagaland, Maniput) and even Bangladesh.

  • Power: 1,000,000 Scoville heat units (SHU)

Scoville scale

Like earthquakes have their Richter scale, peppers and chilies have had their own scale of measurement since 1912. We owe our thanks to American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville for the countless tests he made with chili paste diluted with sugar water on human guinea pigs to develop his method, officially called the Scoville Organoleptic Test. It works like this: a cayenne pepper, for example, has a strength of 50,000. This means that that it needs to be diluted 50,000 times before the capsaicin (the molecule responsible for the burning) becomes undetectable. The scale goes all the way up to 16 million.

Red Savina pepper – West Indies


More commonly known as the “Habanero pepper,” this is one of the most powerful but also one of the most delicious peppers with hints of lemon and apricot. The terrible Red Savina has long been regarded as the strongest pepper in the world before being dethroned by the Jolokia chili in 2006. West Indians don’t eat this pepper whole though, instead they rub it on their foods for seasoning. In Europe we use it mostly as decoration. It must be handled with gloves to prevent burns.

  • Power: 500,000 SHU

Rocoto – Peru


This is a must-try on any holiday to Peru and South America in general. It is mostly grown in the highlands of the Andes Mountains, at 1500m altitude in Peru and Bolivia. It is yellow-orange-red in colour and around 7cm long and most easily recognized for its hairy leaves, purple blooms and black seeds. Beautiful… yet deadly.

  • Power: 100,000-325,000 SHU

Fatalii – South Africa


The name of this pepper leaves little to the imagination about its power. Intense fire that fills the mouth and body, subtle flavours of lemon and fish at the end. If you want to experience this one you’ll have to travel either to Central America or the southern countries of Africa.

  • Power: 100,000-325,000 SHU
If you’re going to undertake this fiery gastronomic adventure then you’re going to need a few things to keep you cool, at least your mouth. First of all do not drink water! Instead drink milk, eat cheese or even butter to neutralise the burning sensation. May the force be with you.

Bird’s eye chili – Southern Asia

This small yet powerful chili is grown not only in Thailand but also many other countries in South-East Asia including Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s small size packs a very strong kick, just 15mm long and 8mm in diameter. It is a must in almost all South-East Asian cuisine where it is simmered in soups, stir fried in a wok or simply used as a decoration in salads and pasta dishes.

  • Power: 50,000-100,000 SHU

Cayenne – Guyana

Cayenne is quickly becoming the most popular spice in the world after being introduced to Europe by one of Christopher Columbus’ travelling mates. Since it can be grown almost anywhere, you’ll find it either adorning dishes as a garnish or as a spicy after taste in your favourite soup. It is the base for the famous Tabasco Sauce that is the key ingredient to making the best Bloody Mary’s.

  • Power: 30,000-50,000 SHU (this will give you an idea of the kick the previous peppers have)

Here you have it, the most powerful peppers in the world. Have any spicy tales of your own to tell?

Imgs: 21TonGiant, buggolo, suxxie, grailbeard, Arria Belli, wstryder / Flickr cc.

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