Bhut jolokia, also known as the ghost chili pepper, was at one point considered the world’s hottest pepper, and for good reason. Close to three times as hot as a habanero pepper, the ghost pepper grows only in the Indian states of Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur and packs enough kick to bring tears to even the most daring person’s eyes. So when pepper enthusiast Claus Pilgaard, the self-described Chili Klaus, asked 1,000 people to consume this fiery morsel, one can only wonder if they knew what they were getting into.
Measuring between 855,000 and 1,041,427 Scoville heat units (SHU), the standard measurement for the heat of a pepper, the ghost pepper is only topped by the Trinidad moruga scorpion and the Carolina Reaper. To put the ghost pepper’s score on the Scoville scale into perspective, a habanero pepper usually measures between 100,000 and 350,000, Tabasco Sauce between 30,000 and 50,000, and a serrano pepper between 10,000 and 23,000.
Although eating a ghost pepper straight up, similar to the 1,000 brave Danish souls featured in Pilgaard’s video, is not recommended, cooking with the ghost chili could offer surprising health benefits. For example, capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, is the most-studied plant ingredient for cancer research and has even been approved for skin use by the Food and Drug Administration. Generations of people in India have used a ground up powder from ghost peppers as a laxative and to treat stomach illnesses.