Have you ever eaten green chilli? No, not when it is used as masala or garnish, but a fresh, raw one? I wouldn’t advise you to do it unless you like to feel like your whole mouth and gullet and stomach are on fire. I still remember it from the time I had eaten a small bite of one, way, way back in time.
In one of the houses we lived in, had this kitchen garden with many vegetable plants, among them some chilli plants too. Every day, before starting to eat, mother would pluck a fresh green chilli to eat along with her food. She relished its zing, scarcely wincing at the heat. It made my mouth water just looking. One day I went and plucked what I thought was a perfect one. Mother warned me not to eat it, but naturally I didn’t listen to her and merrily bit into it. I had not even chewed it properly before my tongue was on fire!
I got up, ran to the washbasin and rinsed and rinsed my mouth; stuffed it with spoonsful of sugar and downed gallons of water. My stomach only got bloated but I was still on fire. Finally I went and stood under the fan, my face turned heavenwards, my tongue hanging out – like a puppy!
After growing older, I read about Scoville Heat Units (SHU) which are used to measure the heat factor of chillies and the SHU of various kinds of chillies. Hilly India is home to the largest number of chilli varieties going from the mildest Kashmiri chilli (about 2000 SHU) to Bhoot Jholokia (Ghost chilli) of Assam (1,041,427 SHU). This last is a rich red and looks innocuous, but its sharp sting-like curve gives it away. See the picture if you don’t believe me!
Bhoot Jholokia ruled the records as the hottest chilli in the world till it was displaced by its hybrid the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion which was about 1,200,000 SHU. The ruling chilli till date is the Carolina Reaper at over 2,200,000 SHU! Talking of records, there is one of a man munching through 3 Carolina Reapers in 10 odd seconds! That is over 6 million SHU! Remembering my eating a positively mild chilli by comparison and going berserk, I don’t even want to think of what happened to the one who ate three of these killers!
There are so many varieties of chillies in the world and India itself has the largest number of them. I remember this horticultural show where there were chillies of all shapes and shades ranging from white through pale green to fiery red, all the way to black! I was fascinated by the last. One stood ramrod erect, its end pointing to the sky and there was another that looked like a bunch of black grapes. Needless to say, I wasn’t tempted to try any of them!
For a spice that came to India just over 600 years back, chillies replace the hitherto ruler of kitchens – pepper. This was the spice for which Europeans undertook expensive expeditions and waged wars and colonized spice producing countries including India. It was said that a small sack of pepper was worth a man’s life, so precious it was. It is easy to see how chillies almost replaced pepper because they grew practically in all climates and soil types and so were cheaper and easily accessible to everyone, while pepper production was largely confined to Kerala and so was very expensive.
I will tell you more stories about this wonderful spice and share a fiery recipe of chilli chutney another day.
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!