Trinidad Moruga Scorpion is World’s Hottest Pepper. But Can You Eat It?

Chile peppers range from extra mild to super hotThe first thing I wondered when I heard that a new pepper, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, had been crowned the world's hottest, was, can you cook with it? Assuming scientists had cultivated the plant for industrial use in bottled hot sauce or even defensive pepper spray, I spoke with Dr. Paul Bosland, the renowned pepper expert (or as he prefers, "connoisseur"), who raised and tested the champion at New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute. "These were originally grown in backyards to be used in cuisine," he explains. The same goes for the previous record holder, the Bhut Jolokia or "Ghost Pepper" from India. Bosland adds, "'Moruga' is the town in Trinidad where the seeds were first developed and "Scorpion" refers to a little appendage on the fruit."

Related: Five Chili Secrets From the Pros

Measuring Chile Pepper Heat

Chile pepper heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), which indicate how much the active compounds called capsaicins need to be diluted so humans won't register their heat. An ancho or poblano pepper clocks in at 1000-2000 SHUs. The average Trinidad Moruga Scorpion tested by Bosland was a blistering 1.2 million SHUs with some individual specimens rating up to 2 million SHUs. Bosland says a close relative of the winning variety, the Seven Pot Chile, gets its name because "one pepper will make seven pots of stew."

Even though they are classified as super-hots, both the Scorpion and the Bhut Jolokia are prized for their complex taste. Bosland calls chile peppers the "sixth flavor" and says once you start cooking them you will notice a range of sensations associated with different varieties. Asian peppers tend to have a pin-prick-like sharp heat while Bosland says Mexican and Caribbean peppers kindle a heat that feels "painted on the tongue with a brush." Some dissipate quickly, while others, like the scorching habanero, can linger for hours.

Cooking With Hot Peppers

Bosland says in New Mexico, chile peppers are a part of everyday culture and almost taken for granted. He recommends rookies start experimenting with mild varieties such as Anaheims or New Mexico green chiles or use red chile powder to spice up dishes. How and where a pepper was grown will have a big impact on its spiciness, so try a tiny sliver before adding to a dish.

Julian Medina, chef/owner of Toloache and Coppelia in New York City, grew up cooking Mexican food. He suggests adding a little bit of pepper at a time to "embrace the flavor, not the heat." He advises home cooks to start out by using canned chipotles, which are mild but have a rich, smoky flavor. At his restaurants, he keeps a special habanero salsa in the kitchen for people "who want something really spicy."

Safely Handling Chiles

As you graduate to hotter varieties, you need to handle them carefully. Jack Pickett, owner of Frida's Taqueria and Grill in Stowe, Vermont, advises wearing gloves to cut any pepper hotter than a jalapeno (2500-5000 SHUs) and avoid touching your face or eyes while preparing. Bosland confirms that a Scorpion or Bhut Jolokia can cause blisters. Pickett also warns that vapors coming from cooking the super-hot varieties can burn the inside of your sinuses.

Julian Medina's Toloache Chipotle Barbecue Sauce (for short ribs, pork, steak, or fish)

1 cup brewed coffee

2 cups ketchup

½ Spanish onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon molasses

¼ cup sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons chipotle puree

1 tsp honey

½ cup chicken stock

Kosher salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium flame, and sauté the onions and garlic. Cook until soft, then add remaining ingredients; salt to taste. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Julian Medina's Sweet Onion-Habanero Salsa

½ cup Spanish onion, minced

1 roasted serrano pepper, minced

Half of a habanero pepper, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup yuzu juice (Japanese lemon)

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Kosher salt to taste

To weaken the onion's taste, first rinse the diced onion thoroughly and pat dry with paper towel. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix until well incorporated, add kosher salt to taste.

Frida's Habanero Paste

Chef/co-owner Josh Bard, of Frida's Taqueria and Grill, also keeps a fiery secret salsa in the kitchen for patrons who request their food extra spicy.

1 pound habanero peppers

10 cloves garlic

Olive oil

1 small can of chipotle in adobo

White vinegar

Lime juice

Salt

Toss the habanero and garlic cloves in a little oil and roast until golden. Peel garlic. Puree with chipotle, vinegar, lime, and salt to taste. Can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Dr. Paul Bosland's Favorite "Poppers"

Slice the tops of a dozen jalapeno peppers and carefully scrape out the seeds. Stuff with cream cheese. Wrap with bacon and grill until golden and crispy.

Do you like the heat? Please share your favorite ways to use super-hot peppers in the comments below.

Copyright Yahoo 2012

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