Monday, February 05, 2007

Sourcing Peppers, another adjunt to the Naga Saga

We found a supplier in India for the local variety of this pepper. In this area, the pepper is known as the Raja Mirchi, or king chilli.

We sent an agent into the neighbourhood to procure the peppers for us. He tells us that he camped out for three days and found the climate to be freezing, people untrustworthy and a very insecure life for residents. Our agent bribed some people and managed to arrange a meeting with the agricultural minister who shared with us the following information about the product, its quality, the people and transportation issues.

I thought we’d share that with you.

The normal growing season for raja mirchi is between April and October both in plains and hilly areas. During this season the chilli is of good size, weight and has the required pungency and aroma. He also noted that in Northeastern India the chilli is consumed for its flavour rather than for it’s heat. Which is what our friends in England, the Michauds’ had told us.

The chillis grow better in the valleys and hilly areas than on the plains and is mainly found in amongst the bamboo. The first peppers take 6-8 weeks time and the first peppers are never eaten because the locals feel that their colour and flavour is lacking. These first peppers are used as compost. Interestingly enough, our agent tells us that the plants grow to a height of 9 feet! He also tells us that after a couple of fruitings, the plants are cut down and fully renewed. The natives feel that any longer than 18 months and the peppers deterioriate very quickly. The natives then plant new peppers.

At market this chilli is more expensive than other chillies for various reasons. Picking the chilli is difficult because of where it grows, it is difficult to get to and thus is a herculean task. The aroma and pungency of the pepper is so intense that few people can stand it enough to pick them.
Local transport is a major problem so the peppers are transported to the bus terminal, where the public transit system is used to bring the chillies to the marketplace, picture the dreaded Mexican schoolbus, albeit Indian style. At market, the peppers are graded between good ones and ordinary ones based on the size and texture of the chilli. At this point, there is an average 30-45% rejection rate. It is at this point that the peppers are packed for export to us. The entire process from plant to us, takes about 10 days.

The peppers are purely organic and no fertilizers are used. Hence the peppers are SKAL certified organic.

Our agent informs us quite readily that the area is full of thugs and that because of insurgency in the area, it is difficult to move the produce at will.

The email was signed as follows:

“Overall an experience I won’t forget”.

And, I might add, overall an experience we won’t soon forget either.

As you can well imagine, buying something that Americans find mysterious is a source of great amusement to Indians and Bangladeshis who are quite familiar with these peppers.

This quip from a subcontinet forum: credit a poster named “vAtraT”: I recall reading about habanero (pronounced haabaanyero) peppers, which are among the hottest around, that they’re 40 to 50 times as hot as jalapeno peppers, and jalapeno (pronounced haalaapenyo) peppers are not tame. In that article they mentioned a northeast Indian pepper as being the hottest ever. This must be the Naga pepper.

I had wondered how they go about ascertaining the hotness. Turns out they dilute the juice N times and then apply it to a certain part of the anatomy. Then the average distance of the first hop made by the subjects (multiplied by N, of course) determines the strength of the pepper. It’s all very scientific.

Me out.

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