How to Handle Fresh Bhut Jolokia, the World's Hottest Chile Pepper

Even with gloves and a mask, there are certain things to consider before plunging into working with fresh jolokias.

Bhut jolokia chile peppers on the vine.

Serious Eats

Fingers crossed, I'm hoping to have fresh bhut jolokia chiles arrive in my garden by the end of the summer. (Seeds were purchased from the Chile Pepper Institute). If you're not familiar, this bad boy is the world's hottest chile pepper with a Guinness World Record to prove it. Also known as the ghost chile, this pepper from India rates one million units on the Scoville scale, compared to 400,000 for the hottest type of habanero.

I've only worked with the chile either in powder form or dried whole, and I've worn gloves and a mask while doing so. According to Jeff R. Blaine, there are certain things to consider before plunging into working with fresh jolokias. And he's a man to know. Dabbling with powdered and fresh jolokia chiles for the past two and a half years, Blaine recently had his own jolokia chiles grown straight in Assam for his Bhut Sauce Liquid Atomic Fire Hot Sauce. Here's some of his advice on how to handle them.

The Difference Between Fresh and Dried Bhut Jolokia

According to Blaine, the capsaicin intensity changes significantly from fresh to dried. The fresh packs the highest pungency with 1 million Scoville units, whereas the powdered can fall to roughly around 750,000 to 900,000 Scoville units. So if you've been working with the powdered version, be prepared that the fresh will be much more lethal.

Armor Up: The Protective Gear You Need

When Blaine processes large quantities of jolokia chiles for his hot sauce—upwards of 200 chiles at a time—he is certain to wear eye goggles, double-vinyl gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. Also, the room needs to be well-ventilated. But once, he tried a little shortcut.

"The last time we made 200 bottles, the kitchen was warm, and I skipped the long sleeve shirt by design. This was a bad idea because the sauce splashed on my left arm and caused a blister in about a day," he said. "The burn lasted for a few days." Take note from his lesson learned and cover up while working with the chiles.

Best in Small Doses

Keep in mind that this chile is the hottest of the hot. Use sparingly. Blaine became overzealous with the jolokia and paid the price: "In about 15 seconds, I was sweating profusely and literally thought I was going to die from palpitations and the heat intensity. It took about 1 1/2 hours to pass, and I learned my lesson. So, anyone planning on using bhut jolokia chilies, please be very careful."

Cooking with the Bhut Jolokia

From one chilehead to another, I recommend puréeing the jolokia into a hot sauce to use all year long. Use a few jolokia chiles to experiment with in your food, but preserve the bulk of them to use all year.

June 2010