Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Dorset Naga

Michael MichaudIt's every chilihead's dream to find the world's hottest pepper. We go through phases of seeking all the heat we can handle, delving into extracts and maybe even cap-surfing until we either tire of it, hurt ourselves or settle into simply eating fresh peppers regularly.

April fool’s Day 2006 will go down in history as the day that Joy and Michael Michaud, pictured here, announced to the world that they had hazarded upon the world's hottest pepper. From there, the story began its whirlwind tour of misinformation, mistrust and hoaxism. The April Fool's Day joke is that this story didn't break on April Fool's Day. The story was published on March 31st, in the Bridport News a newspaper local to the area of Dorset where the Michauds reside. The media then picked it up and ran with it... on April fool’s Day.

Joy and Michael Michaud live in West Bexington, a small rural village in the county of Dorset, England. They both hold a Doctorate in grassland agronomy. Joy's is from Aberystwyth University of Wales and Michael's is from Texas A&M. Michael is American. Michael is co-author of the book; Cool Green Leaves and Red Hot Peppers. Michael contributes articles on his work with immigrants and the vegetables they grow. One such article appeared in a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) magazine, The Garden, entitled: The World in an Allotment - Gardeners from Different Communities.

For their part-time chili business, the Michauds grow 8 other chilies and tomatillos. All the chilies, with the exception of the Thai hot are grown in the soil in polytunnels, a UK version of a plastic sheet hot house. The Thai hot and some other chilies sold at shows as decorative, edible house plants are grown in pots where they thrive. Joy and Michael spent the last weekend planting out this year's crops.

For the past several years, Joy and Michael have been selecting the best and the brightest of the offspring from a Bangladeshi pepper, the naga morich. The pepper, which ripens to a rich red colour, is preferred by Bangladeshis to be picked and used green. Their intention for selecting these plants was to get larger, heartier fruit, with stronger, larger plants. They are aware that culling the way they did is really going the long way around, but they are quite satisfied with the resulting plant. The line for which they have applied for Plant Variety Protection (PVP) (Plant Cultivar Protection in North America) has been given the name ‘Dorset Naga’.

In a personal interview, Joy said, "We don't know whether our chilli is the hottest in the world or not, probably not, it is just that we had it measured." The truth is that based on two independent HPLC tests of the Michaud's Dorset Naga, their cultivar, planned or accidental, currently holds the highest HPLC count for anything other than an extract, or does it? Interestingly enough, there is yet another chili from Assam, India, called the bhut jalakai or raja mirchi (ghost or poison chili) and it supposedly registers a reading of 1,041,427 SHU. The Michauds believe that the Dorset Naga, the naga morich, the bhut jalakai, the raja mirchi, and other landrace naga varieties, (all C. chinense peppers) from that region, North Bangladesh/North East India, may all be related. During the interview, Joy expressed surprise that there was so much excitement generated over their peppers. After all, such hot peppers are common in the ethnic shops catering to immigrant Bangladeshis where they found their naga morich peppers. With a laugh, Joy writes, "Michael's favourite quote is that these chillies are the world's best kept secret. Only him, me (sic) and a million Bangladeshis know about it!"

Joy tells us that this year's Naga crop is about 1-2 feet high already and they expect the fruit to be ready to be picked by late July. Once grown, the Dorset Naga is easier to tell from the naga morich, mostly because the plants themselves grow twice as tall and the fruit are much larger.

naga morich & Dorset Naga

Shown here, side by side, the naga morich is on the left, the Dorset Naga, on the right.

Regardless of when the fruit are ripe, don't expect to be able to buy any fresh Dorset Naga unless you live in Britain. The Michaud's will only ship to a British address.

The Michauds also sell to a few selected sauce makers, their main buyer being a Bangladeshi family. A few years ago the Michauds’ regular buyer had let them down and they had masses of naga laden with fruit and no one to buy them. Joy contacted the Bangladeshi sauce makers, who weren't really sure they wanted the peppers. Joy sent them a sample anyway. Once they had the pepper in their hands, they changed their minds and suddenly, Joy and Michael couldn't grow enough! Last year the Michauds had to limit their hot sauce maker to only 10 kilograms of fruit a week. The majority of the chilies the sauce maker needs are imported from Bangladesh.

The Dorset Naga, although large for their size, are very thin skinned with a large cavity, so the Michauds get about 200 fruit per kilo. The plants are so bushy, that Joy actually has to search for the chilies. Perhaps she should call it the Hide and Seek Naga! Joy picks all of the peppers herself. They are so hot; she won't let anyone else do it. Interestingly, the peppers are not always bush-ripened. The Bangladeshis who eat the naga prefer the peppers green.

Michael and Joy joked that they should set up a competition to see who can come up with a hotter pepper. Michael figures it would be a great way to get more people intermingling with the Bangladeshi communities; they would go into their shops, where meeting the people and talking with them will help break down barriers.

If you are going to go around to the shops that Bangladeshi immigrants frequent, you might find these little green chili pods that don't look special, but there they will be. The Bangladeshi pepper is always sold green, so it is hard to extract viable seed, but the Michauds managed it, so it is possible.

At the moment the Michauds are not selling seed of Dorset Naga. They have applied for plant variety protection and the seed is likely to be available after this year’s season. There has been a sudden flurry of naga seeds being sold on the internet, but this is not Dorset Naga, and may be the seed collected from the unripe fruit sold in the ethnic shops. It is also rumoured that some of the seeds might actually be the PCP Red Savina.

We had a customer of ours bring us a plant he called a Mr. Naga. After showing the pictures of Mr. Naga to Joy, she concurs, Mr. Naga was most definitely a naga morich. So, indeed, we have had the honour of tasting the now famous pepper. What's sad, is that last fall Mr. Naga lost all of his leaves and one of our employees thinking him dead, tossed the plant. In case you are wondering, the fruit on Mr. Naga was the hottest pepper I have ever tasted and it actually left our Peppermaster feeling like he'd been punched in the chest. It took his breath away and he had to sit down.

Mr. Naga pepper

The fruit of the now defunct Peppermaster Mr. Naga plant.

I asked Joy if she and Michael eat the peppers they grow, and if so, what their favourite way to eat them was. She told me that they do eat the peppers, just not the Dorset Naga, it is too hot for them. She made the point that they both love the habanero and its wonderful flavour, asking if I had ever tried using it for tomato ketchup or for a fruit-based pasta sauce. Then she commented that they used a habanero specially bred for its mildness. Lover of the habanero that I am, I would love to taste this mild-bred habanero, even if I would end up adding heat afterwards.

Over the years, Joy and Michael have come to specialize more and more in chilies, but they continue to grow other crops. The Michauds sell a lot of Mexican chilies and as such they grow the vegetables that would go best with those chilies, hence the growing of tomatillos. In a chili business like theirs, the Michauds need to offer a variety of peppers, covering the full range of heat, so, they have always included a hot habanero pepper. To be able to supply all the chilies in their catalogue right from the beginning of the season they aim to synchronize the first harvest of their chilies. This was difficult with the habanero as these peppers tend to ripen later than other types and normally should be picked ripe. But when, a Pakistani friend mentioned a fruity flavoured Bangladeshi chili eaten green. A little checking and it turned out that the chili was a habanero and because it is traditionally eaten in its green stage, could be picked several weeks earlier than usual. That was the beginning.

Joy and Michael would like everyone to know that they aren't fraudsters. They aren't about to claim that their peppers are the hottest anyone could get. The only claim the Michauds have made is that these two HPLC tests were carried out on a pure sample of their peppers. The tests, both conducted by reputable American HPLC testing facilities, recommended, Joy adds, by people in the US chili industry, gave their pepper sample an average score of over 900,000 SHU. They have sent their results to Guinness to apply for the World Record, and in the event that Guinness, and indeed the rest of the world would like more proof, wait a while, the Michauds intend to retest this summer.

It's funny that two agronomists who prefer the milder peppers should develop something so hot they can't eat it. In fact, both Joy and Michael downplay the macho chili eating, lovers of peppers, they prefer to enjoy their flavours whether, mild or hot.


john said...

I notice the Chile Pepper Institute has released the Bhut Jolokia, tested at over 1,000,000 SHU. The Chilli Seed Company have the seeds in stcok as well as the Bih Jolokia which is tested even hotter. Should it be one of these two in the Guinness Book of records?

Pepperfire said...

Thanks for the comment, John.

In order for the record to be changed it has to go through Guinness' proving grounds, and until it does, the Garcia's Red Savina will continue to hold the record... On the books, that is.

As for the two peppers you mention; they're the same pepper and as I wrote, these are the same pepper from which the Michauds cultivated the Dorset.

As for the world's hottest pepper, regardless of who "owns it" or what name you give it, I stand by my original assessment; the world's hottest pepper was then and continues now to be the Capiscum Chinense.


Mark said...

Totally agree with you T. Im aware of at least two other varieties that most chileheads will also know which could be even hotter than Naga Morich/Dorset Naga/Bhut/Bih Jolokia - its just they havent been tested yet. Its only a matter of time before the next hottest is 'discovered'.

By the way, Peppers by Post now sell Seeds and they are reasoonably priced.

PS I don't think 'John' was his really name ;-) Check the URL for the origin of that post.


Anonymous said...

Hi T,

I total agree with your comments. The Dorset Naga/Naga Morich/Bhut/Bih Jolokia are virtually the same thing, its just some people have a commercial interest and want to make their version 'like the Bhut or Bih Jolokia' sound that extra bit special for commercial gain.

Most chilliheads will be aware of at least 2 other peppers that couple also give these peppers a run for their money - its just they havent been 'discovered' and tested yet. Its only a matter of time before a new hottest come along.

For what its worth, The Michauds are very transparent, decent people and have actually grown out their peppers (unlike some other sellers)
Dorset Naga seeds are now available and they are reasonabily priced and of good quality.

By the way, I dont think 'John' is his real name ;-) Check the posters URL ans all will be revealed.

Anonymous said...

The Dorset naga is claimed here to be something different from my Bangladeshi naga. I would like to point out that there is no difference. I grow naga in my home and most of my chillie pods are big and hollow like the dorset naga. It all depends on how well you look after your plants. Naga is naga. No matter what you name it. We Bangladeshis have been using and growing it for thousands of years. The so called Dorset can be found in any street corner in Bangladesh being sold by the poor old lady of the village. What you find in the shops is immature pods solely intendent for keeping the market supplied without any consideration whether the chillies have matured or not.

Anonymous said...

i dont the photogrphs
differin naga and your dorset..
after many cross pollination..
may be your dorset produce..
immature fruits which are small

Pepperfire said...

Don't you just love the way anonymous people leave comments?

Perhaps they'd have the gumption to leave their names, IF they'd actually read the article?

The naga and the Dorset are the same chilli. The only difference is that the Dorset has spent several years being grown in England, selecting their seeds from the biggest and the best of their fruit crop.

In other words...


Any more anonymous messages suggesting that the article says that they are different peppers, will not be allowed to be posted.

Pepperfire said...

Oh, and before I forget...

A little clarification for the person who didn't bother to respect their own words enough to leave their name...

The LARGER chillies in the photograph are the British grown Dorset Naga. The itty bitty ones... Bangladeshi.

It would be wise to actually READ the article if you are going to comment.

Anonymous said...

Theirs are reports that Naga king chill (so called bhut jolokia)was propagated to bangladesh during late 80's by Naga freedom fighters.

Chanji Ngullie

Pepperfire said...

I have to question the anonymous poster who claims that Bangladeshis have been eating nagas for "thousands of years".

Since there is no history of chili peppers in Europe, Africa or Asia prior to their discovery in the 15th century by Columbus, nor prior to Magellan's bringing them back to Africa. I have to wonder... is "thousands of years" a bit of an exaggeration?

Could you perhaps cite us some sort of history that might show that these peppers were on this side of the planet prior to the 15th century?

Anonymous said...

hi. my beautiful assistant would like to challenge you to a chilliduel. i've wisely warned her that this is a foolhardy challenge someone who likes capsicum sooo much that they have a website about it! but she is steadfast in her commitment to you accept?

Pepperfire said...

I dunno if it's foolhardy or not, we chiliheads are a bit of an interesting breed. I could easily make an online virtual event of it, just for fun, and get lots of competitors.

I'm simply rather curious how you would propose having a chili duel? Especially since aside from your IP address, I've no idea who you or your assistant are.

Abdul Miah said...

This is ridiculous, so many commentators arguing over the humble naga.

Who gives a flying hoot about some Portuguese sailor? There is a cave painting in my village of Tetliphur in the district of Nobiganj depicting the use of the naga in cooking. Carbon dating puts it thousands of years old. Dont believe me do what Magellan ddnt come ad see it.

pepperfire, can you say Cultural appropriation.

I am proud though that the Bengali naga is now recognised as on of the hottest chillis in the world. I've always thought we were the biggest chilliheads in the world...pass me the Gaviscon.

Pepperfire said...

Hi Abdul,

Thanks for posting.

Cultural appropriation? I believe I did say that, when the "I found the world's hottest pepper" was announced -- Two years after I'd already found it and several years after the Michauds had been cultivating it.

Frankly, I'd love to see this cave painting. If you can show the world that the pepper is not ONLY 500 years in that part of the world, then please do so.

But until you do, scientific proliferation suggets that the pepper didn't originate THERE.

And I hate to break it to you, but if you ask Dr. Bosland, holder of the Certificate... it isn't the Bengali pepper, it's the Indian one... called a Bhut Jolokia, (not a Naga) GROWN in New Mexico, (Not India or Bengal).

Make my day... contact me if you can get me these peppers FRESH.

Anonymous said...

Pepperfire is basing all comments on FACTS, so he has a point.

Mind NorthEast India, which borders Bangladesh. And where i assume the Bhut Jolokia originates. Note 'Bhut Jolokia' is two 'Indian' Words. Bangladesh has another language and has its own word for the pepper. Being 'Naga'. And this describes the area it grows. Just because countries have different words for something doesnt change what they are.

Yet because a piece of paper records the 'indian' name, it must be a different pepper? Must be!

Anonymous said...

Pepperfire is basing all comments on FACTS, so he has a point.

Mind NorthEast India, which borders Bangladesh. And where i assume the Bhut Jolokia originates. Note 'Bhut Jolokia' is two 'Indian' Words. Bangladesh has another language and has its own word for the pepper. Being 'Naga'. And this describes the area it grows. Just because countries have different words for something doesnt change what they are.

Yet because a piece of paper records the 'indian' name, it must be a different pepper? Must be!

Anonymous said...

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Deen Adam said...

Naga originates in sylhet Bangladesh look up how long sylheti people have been around and how long they have been eating naga, Dorset naga is just the white man sticking his name to something to won rights to profiteering nothing more nothing less it's a sham you can't own an call your own something that has been an travelled thousands of miles to fall.into your hands
Sent not anonymous proud sylheti Bangladeshi

Tina Brooks said...

Let's see, it's a Naga... the original Bangladeshi word and it's grown in Dorset England.

Yeah, that's profiteering alright.

You want to rag on profiteers, rag on the chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico THEY are the only people I've seen claim a Guinness for a pepper someone else grew.