On average, ghost chilies are about 200 times hotter than jalapeno peppers, weighing in at 855,000 to 1,000,000 Scoville units to the jalapeno's 2,500 to 8,000. The ghost chili is a variety from northeast India, where it has been eaten for centuries, although it wasn't widely know in the West until the "Guinness Book of World Records" named it as the world's hottest chili in 2007.
Measuring Chili Heat
The Scoville system is the most widely used method for measuring chili heat. This process involves diluting chili oil from different varieties of peppers in a solution of sugar water, and then feeding these solutions to laboratory subjects, diluting them in increments until the subjects no longer taste the heat. Measurements of Scoville units correspond with the number of times the solution must be diluted before it can no longer be tasted, so hotter chilies land higher Scovile ratings.
Jalapeno peppers are commonly used to add head to nachos and burritos. Although they are hotter than the mild chilies such as the Anaheims and poblanos which are typically used in chilies rellenos and mild salsas, jalapenos are among the milder varieties of hot chilies. The heat level of individual jalapenos can vary dramatically, with the hottest specimens at 8,000 Scoville units, measuring more than three times the heat of the mildest specimens, measuring only 2,500 Scoville units.
Using Ghost Chilies
Because ghost chilies are so much hotter than other varieties, a little bit goes a long way. Although the pepper has received publicity and popularity due to its world record, it is too hot for most Western eaters to use in its pure form. Bottled hot sauces that use ghost chilies typically blend them with other, milder chilies or dilute them enough with vinegar or tomato to make them edible, at least for eaters who have not grown up enjoying them.
Nature vs. Nurture
Some of the heat in both ghost chilies and jalapenos comes from genetics and breeding, as farmers select for seeds with high levels of capsaicin, the chemical that makes chilies hot. Growing conditions also affect chili heat, with fruit growing hotter when plants are stressed by conditions such as lack of water. These variables account for the range of heat spanning a 5,500 Scoville unit difference between the hottest and the mildest jalapenos, and a 145,000 Scoville unit span between the heat levels of different ghost peppers.
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