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Friday, September 28

Molecular factors, unique ecological environment keep Bhut Jolokia world’s hottest chilli, find Indian defense researchers

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A molecular study carried out by Indian defense researchers indicates that molecular characters and the unique ecological environment of North East India make Bhut Jolokia distinct from other closely related chilli species and keep it world’s hottest. Locally known as “Bhut Jolokia”, this pepper variety found in the North Eastern parts of India and is considered as the hottest chilli in the world.

Bhut Jolokia, hottest chilli, Indian spices
Bhut Jolokia, worlds hottest chilli
Image Courtesy: 
Xaime Méndez (Wikimedia Commons)
According to the study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Biosciences  a phylogenetic analysis of the ribosomal RNA sequence of the chilli indicates that specific sequences from all Bhut Jolokia fruits collected from different parts of the country exhibited a distinct clade or common ancestors than the related species.

Moreover, a 13 base deletion was also found in the representative sequencing of Bhut Jolokia. This peculiarity makes it different from all other members of the Capsicum genus, according to the study. “A unique 13-base deletion was observed in all the representative accessions of Bhut Jolokia, making it distinct from all other members within the genus and beyond”, says the study.

Debate on species status

Despite its unique pungency, taxonomists have always debated on considering it as a separate species. Many scholars consider it as just a variety of Capsicum frutescens. Guinness Book of World Records, which in 2006, has acknowledged it as the hottest pepper, however, has recorded it as a variety of Capsicum chinese. Later a group of researchers have found that the plant actually stands between the two varieties, being a hybrid of the two.

The new finding made by the researchers at the Defense Research laboratory, Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Defense Research & Development Establishment (DRDE) supports the arguments to consider Bhut Jolokia as a separate species of hot chilli.

Ecological environment influence on Capsaicin presence

Bhut Jolokia on the plant
Image Courtesy : Wikimedia Commons
The study has also pointed out that the extreme pungency of the chilli variety may have been influenced by the peculiar environmental factors present in the North Eastern parts of the country. According to it, high average temperature in the atmosphere and draught like situations may increase the pungency of the pepper, apart from genetic factors.

When the researchers have analyzed the presence of Capsaicin, the element which gives pungency to the pepper and is the base for the Scoville ratings, it was found that Bhut Jolokia grown in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh had 50 percent less Capsaicin, which makes it 50 percent less hotter than the fruit from the same species plant grown up in Tezpur in Assam. According to the researchers, this explains how the hot and humid climate in the North East India is making Bhut Jolokia hottest among the chillies.

Hottest Chilli in the world

Bhut Jolokia has grabbed the title ‘world’s hottest chilli’ from the Red Savina Habanero found in Canada, when it was found that Jolokia is at least two times hotter than it in terms of Scoville Heat units which is the measurement of hotness in chillies.

Interestingly, the name Bhut Jolokia hints a ghostly bite, which actually leaves the victim burning for at least 30 minutes without subsiding. It is being used by local people for a variety of purposes like making spicy food, to prepare medicines and even in smoke bombs to keep wild elephants away.

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