Chasing the Ghost

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A few days ago, I was reading an online report about what is allegedly the world's hottest chili pepper: the bhut jolokia or "ghost chili," grown in the Assam region of northeast India. How hot is it? According to Fiery-Foods.com (where I swiped the image above), your average jalapeno rates as high as 10,000 Scovilles, the unit used to measure the capsaicin content or "heat" of chilies. The bhut jolokia? Try a colon-scalding 1,001,342 Scovilles. Put that in your lemonade.

God knows why, but I'm curious about trying it. That which does not kill you, etc. So I've been calling around Nashville trying to find some, either as whole peppers or in sauces. None of the Indian restaurants here apparently cook with them. "Most Indian food is cooked to American tastes," said a helpful staffer at Green Hills' Shalimar—a polite way of saying, "You'd scream like a girl if we served it, wuss." A woman at the Shubha grocery in Woodbine laughed when I asked her. "I have some hot pepper," she said, "but I'm not sure it's the hottest in the world!"

I didn't find it at the Tennessee Hot Spot (a.k.a. the Tennessee Stinkin' Rose) in the Nashville Farmers' Market. But manager Brandon Wyche—who took over for the late Frank Schumaker, the merry gent who could always be found cutting up with customers until he suffered a heart attack at the store a few months ago—offered the next best thing. It's a mammoth bottle of Da Bomb: The Final Answer, a stout blend of habaneros and pepper extract that weighs in at 1.5 million Scovilles. The only drawback: Wyche says he's selling it for $750. That's a steep price just to relaunch the Manhattan Project in your duodenum. Bottom line: I'm not ready to give up the ghost.

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