Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor
It goes by several names. Naga Jolokia. Naga Bhut Jolokia. Bhut Jolokia. Ghost chili, or ghost pepper (bhut=ghost and jolokia=pepper in Hindi). This naughty little pepper is unmistakable for its infamous atomic sting. For some years, the ghost pepper was certified as the hottest one in the world, registering in at over a whopping 1 million Scoville Units (or about 400 times the heat of say, Tabasco). Appropriately, the ghost pepper originated from the plains and hills of Northeast Indian states such as Nagaland and Assam, but received a global reputation and following for its heat index and unique flavor. Two New Yorkers, Satish Sehgal and Jeff Blaine, decided to partner up and grow, bottle, and sell this fire with their own twist.
It all started in 2010, when Blaine and Sehgal obtained their first set of ghost pepper seeds and began cultivating pepper plants in Blaine’s Upper West Side apartment, which received some media attention. Sehgal, a successful restauranteur, had experience creating Western-style hot sauce recipes, one version of which became the base for the first original “bhut sauce” after some mutual experimenting in the kitchen. These kitchen sessions were both delicious and dangerous- both men, no strangers to intense and spicy flavors, will never forget some of the burning sensations in their mouths, on their skins, and- most interesting of all, the overnight hallucinatory effects from what can only be described as the ghost’s whisper. They were careful to use protective wear and thoroughly wash their hands, but all it takes is a tiny drop landing in the wrong place to cause a physiological (or psychosomatic) reaction. I have experienced all of these effects as somewhat of a heat-seeker myself.
As the initial recipe was perfected and the micro-batches became larger, they approached restaurants and stores with their original bhut sauce. One of the adopters is Han Dynasty, an excellent Szechuan Chinese restaurant chain that originated in Philadelphia, and has branches in the East Village and Upper West Side. The Szechuan region of China is indisputably home to the spiciest cuisine in that country, with tongue-tickling special peppercorns and red-hot chilis. I met Blaine at the UWS Han Dynasty branch for a tasting of the Naga Bhut Spices hot sauce line- which has now expanded to 7 unique products. Cold beer followed, to sooth the substantial burn. Read the rest of this entry