The Trinidad Scorpion dwarves the mouth-scalding power of its predecessors
There must be a better time for Tesco to launch one of the world’s hottest chillis in its UK shops than in late July, in a heatwave.
At 1.2million Scoville units — the measurement used to record chilli pepper heat — the Trinidad Scorpion dwarves the mouth-scalding power of its predecessors.
Individual Trinidad Scorpions have been measured at two million Scovilles. To put that into perspective, the Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper, one of the hottest chillis that’s easy to find in supermarkets, weighs in at a mere 350, 000 Scoville units. And the average Jalapeno pepper comes in at about 5, 000.
So the one I’m about to eat is more than 240 times stronger than the sort of chilli you might add to a spicy pasta sauce — hotter than pepper spray; best handled only with latex gloves; and don’t let it near your eyes on any account if you value the gift of sight.
I’m by no means a chilli nut, but I think I can handle it. I even have chilli chicken noodles as my weekday lunch from the local coffee shop.
But the Trinidad Scorpion which became available in stores yesterday, is so lethal that experts recommend you only cook with it, and never eat it straight. In the noble interests of scientific progress, I intend to do both.
‘The Trinidad Scorpion is unbelievably spicy and should be approached with extreme caution even by so-called “chilli- heads”, ’ says Shannon Berry, Tesco’s chilli pepper buyer, ‘Be warned, it is so strong you need only the tiniest smidgeon to add some excitement to your food.’
If it’s any consolation, I will at least be buying British when I’m hauled off to casualty with third-degree burns. Despite its Caribbean name, the Trinidad Scorpion is now grown in temperate Bedfordshire, near the market town of Sandy, by Salvatore Genovese, Britain’s leading chilli farmer, who cultivates a million chillies a week.
He was responsible two years ago for the Bedfordshire Super Naga (Scoville rating of 1.1 million), which sold out in the UK within two months.
‘It could be that the Trinidad Scorpion is way too hot for the UK market, ’ says Mr Genovese, ‘But for the Bedfordshire Burner [the Super Naga], I was getting calls from chilli-heads all over the world and it went down a storm, which is why I decided to grow an even hotter variety.’
So, here goes. It’s 80 degrees outside in my corner of North London. I’ve left the windows open to keep lab conditions as cool as possible.
Standing by, I have water, milk and yogurt — all recommended mouth-calmers.
On Man v Food, the U.S.’s extreme eating programme, the presenter, Adam Richman, swears by his milk when trying high-powered chillis.
Not that milk helped chef Arif Ali much when he ate a Naga Jolokia chilli (1 million Scoville rating) at a 2012 extreme eating event at London’s O2 Arena. Sweating and gasping, he collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital for emergency treatment and spent the next week suffering severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea — something I’d prefer not to think about.
Now £1 buys a packet of two or three chillis that are far stronger than the one that hospitalised him.
My pack arrives wrapped in bubble wrap, and wrapped again in an envelope with ‘Handle with care’ stamped on the front in big letters.
Thank God, one of the chillis is a tiddler. This is the one going in my ultra-simple pasta with a Delia Smith-style fresh tomato chilli sauce, and I’ve gone easy on the onion, garlic, salt and pepper, to counter the nuclear charge I’m about to detonate.
Even the smell of it, held a foot from my nose, is potent enough — a searing, musky smell. I pierce the smallest Trinidad Scorpion with a fork, and slice it into 100 pieces — each thinner than a fingernail and shorter than a raisin — and I spread them carefully through the sauce and leave the sauce to simmer for several hours, hoping that some of the Scorpion’s heat escapes into the hot summer air.
Despite its Caribbean name, the Trinidad Scorpion is now grown in temperate Bedfordshire, near the market town of Sandy. File picture
And now to try. Even a piece of pasta on its own — carefully separated from tomato and chilli — is hot enough, leaving a lingering, light toasting at the back of the tongue and the top of the throat. Bearable, though — no worse than a semi-hot curry at your local Indian restaurant.
I graduate to a tiny piece of tomato, flecked with a few milli-shards of chilli. The heat deepens into the core of my tongue and right into my lips - I don’t want to lick those lips for fear of extending the pain.
Already I’m taking great slugs of water from an oversized glass. And that I’ve now locked my jaw open at maximum width. Even though I can fit three knuckles in my gaping mouth, it feels like nothing’s escaping the seething cauldron of air above my tongue.
At this stage, it’s not so much the intensity of the Scorpion — and it’s pretty intense — but its incredible stamina, or ‘length’, as they call it in the wine-tasting business. It’s ten minutes since my last taste and it’s still sizzling away, in deeper and deeper recesses of my lower skull.
I’m not sure that even a ‘chilli-head’ would be keen on this eternal flame — let alone, want to make it any worse by eating the pure, unadorned variety. But there are two Scorpions left and they’re not going to eat themselves.
I down a pint of water — nothing. I bathe the area in Greek yogurt — apparently an effective balm. Nothing
I take the second biggest and amputate a peanut-sized fragment. I transport it to my mouth on a fork, careful for it not to touch my lips.