The Dorset Naga® is the world's hottest chilli pepper, or at least that was the claim made by the supermarket retailer Tesco, who announced on the 15th August 2008 that it would be selling the Dorset Naga® in 10 gram sachets at a price of 89p. According to Tesco the Dorset Naga had recorded "a reading of a fever-inducing 1.6 million Scovilles", being more than twice the level recorded by the previous record holder the Red Savina which came in with a reading of a mere 577,000 Scovilles.

The Dorset Naga® chilli was developed by Jay and Michael Michaud who both hold doctorates in agronomy and for the past twelve years have run a commercial horticultural holding at Sea Spring Farm (http://www.seaspringfarm.biz/) at West Bexington near Dorchester in Dorset. The Michauds appear to be an enterprising couple and have established a number of business ventures, including Grow and Cook (http://www.growandcook.biz/) which organised courses "especially designed for gardeners interested in learning about new crops and food lovers who want to grow their own ingredients", and Sea Spring Photos (http://www.peppersbypost.biz/seaspringphotos/) which was "a unique photo library dealing with growing, managing and producing food from the farm and garden". However their main claim to fame is that they specialised in raising chilli peppers on their smallholding and also established Peppers by Post (http://www.peppersbypost.biz/) which sold chilli peppers grown on their west Dorset holding, and Really Cool Seeds (http://www.reallycoolseeds.co.uk/) which sold seeds of a number of sweet pepper and chilli pepper varieties and was also the only authorised seller of Dorset Naga® seeds (at £6.00 for a packet of 20 seeds).

They have applied for Plant Variety Protection for the Dorset Naga, in addition to registering the name as a trademark, and would appear therefore to be keen on establishing themselves as the sole source of genuine Dorset Naga® product, although 123Curry (http://www.123curry.co.uk/) has previously sold a Dorset Naga Paste at £14.99 for a 195ml jar. (Currently out of stock until the end of August, whilst their annual production of said paste appears to be in the order of less than two hundred jars.)

Of course Dorset is not necessarily the kind of location that first springs to mind when considering the question of what is the world's hottest chilli pepper. It appears however that in this case the Dorset Naga® is a variety selected from Naga Morich, a "highly regarded" chilli pepper which is well-known in Britain's Bangladeshi community. The Michauds therefore simply extracted the seed from some Naga Morich fruit acquired from Makkah Oriental Food Stores in Bournemouth during the winter of 2001/2002 and raised six seedlings, to which they added another two plants also bought from Makkah which they believe were probably raised by a local Bangladeshi gardener. During the years 2002 to 2005 they gradually expanded the population of plants as they selected those plants which displayed the characteristics they believed to be desirable.

According to the Michauds the "Dorset Naga displays the typical characteristics of Capsicum chinense", whilst also featuring the varietal characteristics of "robust plants" which grow to height of 1.5 metres or more, producing red coloured and wedge shaped fruit with a finely wrinkled skin and thin flesh, which are generally 4-5 centimetres long and 3-4 centimetres wide, and whose most "significant feature" is their "extreme pungency".

Its claim to be the world's hottest chilli rests on the fact that in 2006 the BBC programme 'Gardeners' World' conducted a hot chilli trial at their Berryfields garden and sent the fresh fruit grown to be tested at the University of Warwick using high-performance liquid chromatography. The results broadcast on the 20th October 2006 showed that the winner was a Dorset Naga which measured an astonishing 1,598,227 Scoville Heat Units. However the University of Warwick also noted that there was considerable variations in the results even between chilli peppers from the same plant, and the Michauds themselves state that they are "not fully confident of the extreme figure of 1.6 million", and simply note that the testing of their 2005 crop by Southwest Bio-Labs in New Mexico showed a heat level of 876,000 SHUs, whilst Certified Laboratories in New York came in with a result of 970,000 SHU. The Michauds therefore merely claim that the Dorset Naga is "possibly" the "hottest chilli ever measured" and that their variety measures "around 1,000,000 Scoville Heat Units".

Nevertheless the chef Vivek Singh from the "fashionable" Cinnamon Club in London used Dorset Naga chillies as the basis of his 'Bollywood Burner' curry (commissioned by Virgin Media to "mark the launch of its new Bollywood On Demand service"), which he claimed was the world's hottest curry. Naturally the news that some effete southerners were claiming to have created the nation's hottest curry was like a red rag to a bull to those northerners who take their curry extremely seriously, and this claim was immediately challenged by the likes of the Cumbrian Satan's Ashes and the Curry Hell from Newcastle. The dispute will apparently be settled during National Curry Week, which takes place between the 23rd and 29th November 2008, and which is now scheduled to feature a 'Can You Handle the Heat' battle of the curries sponsored by Fox's XXX Mints.


SOURCES

  • The Dorset Naga at www.dorsetnaga.com
  • Worlds Fiercest Chilli Pepper To Be Unleashed Across UK, 15/08/2008
    http://www.tescocorporate.com/page.aspx?pointerid=FF89C508FE0B4E8296D9381833BC9EC2
  • Ryan Kisiel, Phew, what a scorcher: The world's hottest chilli pepper - the Dorset Naga - comes to Tesco, Mail on Sunday, 16th August 2008
    http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-1045629/Phew-scorcher-The-worlds-hottest-chilli-pepper--Dorset-Naga--comes-Tesco.html
  • Lucy Cockcroft, World's hottest curry title claimed by Bollywood Burner, Daily Telegraph, 10 Jul 2008
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2279428/World's-hottest-curry-title-claimed-by-Bollywood-Burner.html
  • Gillian Cowburn, Cumbrian bid for hottest curry title, Westmorland Gazette, 25th July 2008
    http://www.thewestmorlandgazette.co.uk/news/3547054.Cumbrian_bid_for_hottest_curry_title/
  • World's Hottest Curry http://www.nationaleatingoutweek.com/canyouhandletheheat.html

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