Weaponized Chili Peppers

I posted earlier this week about foods people eat even though they are dangerous if improperly prepared. Here's a food people eat that seems dangerous no matter how it's prepared - the bhut jalokia pepper. The jalokia is way, way hotter than even the scotch bonnet. It's absurdly hot, beyond anything imaginable. So obviously, I had to get one. I got some seeds from the New Mexico State Chili Pepper Institute but had no luck in getting these to grow; evidently Minnesota's climate is not right for their cultivation. This recent article in the Asia Times makes me all the more disappointed.


BANGALORE - Red-hot chili peppers could soon come to India's defense. The country's defense scientists are working on using the world's hottest chilies in hand grenades for use in counter-insurgency operations and riot control.

An important ingredient in Indian cooking, hitherto chilies have been confined to kitchens. They seem poised now to storm another bastion. If ongoing field trials are successful, chilies will soon make a grand entry into India's defense armory. The plan is "to harness the pungency value of chilies to make hand grenades that can be used in riot control and counter-insurgency situations", R B Srivastava, director of life sciences in the government-run Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), told Asia Times Online.

The Asia Times article also goes on to say that India's scientists are using smeared bhut jolokia paste as elephant repellent on public works projects. What a useful plant!


  1. The Chile Pepper Institute’s lengthy disclaimer seems to indicate that the Bhut Jolokia plant is nearly impossible to grow:

    * Air temperatures over 95°F will cause the pollen to abort and subsequent flower drop
    * Too much Nitrogen will cause excessive foliage growth and flower drop
    * Certain disease or pests will cause flower drop
    * Even the smallest amount of plant stress will cause flower drop
    * Bhut Jolokia require soil temperatures to be between 80 and 90 degrees F for proper germination. You may need to supply bottom heat with the aid of a propagation mat.
    * Soil must be kept moderately moist, never being allowed to completely dry out and never allowed to become soggy. This will destroy the embryo in the seed and they will not germinate.
    * The Bhut Jolokia can take up to 36 days just to germinate and have a very long growing period, up to 160 days before harvest.

    Way too much work.

    Maybe I’ll just have kids instead…

  2. One year when I was maybe 11 or 12, some local animal, probably a raccoon, kept tearing into the trash cans beside our house at night, making a huge mess. I always got sent out to clean it up, which was a disgusting job. (My kid sister was in diapers at the time, is all I’m saying.)

    After having to do this a few times, I got the idea of using Tabasco sauce as pest-repellent: I poured it all over the trash cans and the ground around them, then dumped a jar of cayenne pepper all over the area for good measure. Problem solved: no animals permanently harmed, and no more cleaning up nasty trash off the ground.

    1. LOL love the WMD comment.

      Now, where can I get this pepper! I’m sure I could grow in in my locale.

  3. Love ’em. There’s a shop in the US that will sell you dried and smoked bhut jolokias (think reaally hot chipoltes). I spoke to them on the phone last fall and the salesman said they sell seeds and seedlings by in the spring. I’m in the Midwest (St Louis area) and was going to try growing some this spring. After reading the comment by MrJM though, I’m praying for a warm year.

    Here’s the link if you want to torture yourselves too.


  4. love the idea of a stupid hot chile, but realy: gee whiz more non lethal weapons for the pigs to torture people with.

  5. “The plan is ‘to harness the pungency value of chilies to make hand grenades that can be used in riot control and counter-insurgency situations’ … ”

    Thank goodness these vicious hot peppers will be used for legitimate State security purposes, and not (e.g.) recreational torture of suspected agitators and personal enemies. How lucky we are that these little hotties won’t grow in the cold, cold soil of Siberian gulags!

  6. Peppers in general are almost impossible to grow from seed in my experience, and I live in Dallas (much warmer climate(!)). I have no problem growing them outdoors from cuttings or seedling though. My coworker grew her peppers indoors from the same seedling stock as mine, and had trouble getting them to flower and fruit. Wisconsin is about a thousand miles north of their natural growing area, plus they need low humidity and relatively high temps for healthy growth.

    1. I call shenanigans on the notion that hot peppers cannot be grown north of some arbitrary southern line. It’s patently false. I have started plants from seed indoors the second or third week of February for the last 10 years. By Mother’s Day (usually the earliest planting opportunity in SE Michigan), the plants are mature enough for transplanting to the ground. However, I normally wait until the first weekend in June (average last frost) and use May to harden the plants to direct sun & wind.

    2. hadlock, I’ve started them here in Michigan with no problems. Stuck them in the west facing laundry room. They and the tomatoes started out fine. Got a good harvest too – I was growing a paprika type pepper and also the long Spanish hotties (can’t remember name!).

  7. Fortunately World Spice Merchants in Seattle carries dried Ghost Chiles, because there’s no way they’d grow here. I could barely get jalapenos to do anything. They go great in ice cream, and we made an infused vodka that served as a dare food at parties for years.

  8. This blithe reporting on Boingboing of how people will be subjected to state violence and searing pain is really disturbing. Question: why are people “rioting” if that’s even what they’ll be doing when attacked by “security” forces? Most likely, protesting some injustice that has removed their wealth and power and concentrated it under the control of the elite parasitic classes. Why else do most people protest? Why do people riot? Please, think about the social and political context of seemingly innocuous peppers being “weaponized.”

    1. Uniquack,

      Yep, BoingBoing is a hotbed of encouraging state-sponsored violence. We love that shit.

      1. I think you miss my point and have used an attempt at humor to deflect and belittle it as well. Words and perspective have power. When we report and discuss the development of “crowd control” weapons outside of their social context, we help to promulgate a culture of violence and a society developed to promote exploitation that has brought the world to the sorry state it is now in. I mean no insult to BoingBoing and appreciate the diversity of its coverage. I just hope for intelligent, better considered coverage at times.

        1. Uniquack,

          And you miss my point. A quick look at BB’s posting history will reveal a fairly clear stance against the things you are talking about. This post doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is surrounded by examples of the exact things you say this post is lacking. Not every post on a particular topic has to reaffirm the basic assumptions.

        2. “When we report and discuss the development of “crowd control” weapons outside of their social context, we help to promulgate a culture of violence and a society developed to promote exploitation that has brought the world to the sorry state it is now in.”

          Beg your pardon; but I, for one, believe using pepper as a crowd control weapon is not such a bad thing. There are indeed valid uses for these items. Rioting crowds are not the same as peaceful protesters. And certainly pepper spray better than bullets to disperse an unruly crowd.

  9. I bought one for xmas and don’t think I’ll be trying it. I however think most people can handle even the worldest hottest peppers if they have a good supply of milk.

    and I’ve been trying to find out about the myth that the seeds are the hottest part, I can’t find info anywhere.

    1. I wrote an article about hot peppers (buy it here for fifty cents!) The seeds don’t contain capsaicin (the hot stuff). But they are hot because they get a coating of capsaicin from the pepper fruit.

    1. I was signing in just to say what Paul beat me to: hot peppers have been weaponized for quite a while. Pepper spray is why I can’t attend any of the really interesting political demonstrations in my home town (Ottawa): The RCMP can get a little carried away with pepper spray as a crowd control weapon, and I not only have asthma, but I’m also one of the folks who are hypersensitive to capscaicin. Regular people have breathing problems when sprayed with that crap, I’d probably spontaneously combust, swell up, and implode all at once.

      Some jerk ass let off pepper spray in my husbands office as a prank, and they had to evacuate.

      It’s been around since at least 1998 (I can’t find a date of invention or commercial availability, but that’s the date on at least one article referring to it).

  10. This isn’t new. This pepper may totally off the charts hot, but the chemical capsaicin (the actual hot stuff) has been used in pepper spray for YEARS! Sorry to say I think the south Asians ore a bit late on this one.

  11. Wimps.

    This lady “could eat only 51 chilis in the given time of 120 seconds”. She did better at rubbing them in her eyes, however.

  12. MadMolecule,

    The problem with using chile products as a rodent repellant is that it can quite easily get into their eyes (either because the powder flies up or the liquid is transferred from their paws) where since they don’t know what the hell is happening, they have been known to scratch their eyes out. At that point it’d be more humane just to kill them.

    I looked for references for this, but couldn’t find any, so it may also be bull. reader beware.

    1. I second the spelling mistake.

      Jolokia not Jalokia. Any Aussie readers head out for Vindaloo Against Violence yesterday? I had probably the best Indian food I’ve eaten in years complete with a vindaloo that made me break out in sweat and weep. Delicious.

  13. If you’re a fan of irresponsibly spicy foods I strongly suggest trying bhut jolokia. They are intensely spicy but also have a very distinctive taste.

    Make no mistake, they are absurdly hot. I put 1-2 crumbled dry ones into a 9-10 serving batch of spaghetti sauce. It will make your ears ring.

    And of course, be very very careful handling these. If you got even a trace of their oil in your eye it would turn you into a raving lunatic and quite possibly leave some actual, physical damage.

  14. I grew a bunch of these last year and had poor results until I found out how to hand pollinate them then I had plants loaded with peppers. I took my potted pepper plants indoors at the start of winter and have had fresh Nagas all winter. To hand pollinate just gently flick the stems near the flowers.

  15. I’m not interested much in super hot peppers unless they bring some actual flavor to the party as well. If after you’ve removed all the heat, the pepper tastes awful, I don’t want it.

    What I want to know is, what varieties have the best flavor?

  16. To get most hot peppers to germinate you need to have a higher soil temperature. I use heating mats that heat the soil to 10-15C higher than the ambient air.

    I have never had a seed, Jolokia, Habanero, or other hot pepper not germinate.

    Also, ensure that the soil is damp, not soaking wet.

    I have heard further luck by soaking the seeds in water overnight before planting, but I have not had to do this.

    Of course, you cannot get fruit from the pepper plants in doors unless you do some pollenating yourself gently with a q-tip or even a feather.

    Hope this helps


  17. Sigh. I rarely read the comments, because they devolve so readily to politics – of which I am completely, utterly sick and tired.

    So here I was at BoingBoing, and saw an article about one of my favorite things, chilie peppers – and I was even fortunate enough to read comments that spoke to the plant, and experiences people have had attempting to grow it.

    And then someone comes in and dumps a load of political crap on an innocent thread all because of a turn-of-phrase that got them bent all out of shape.

    What a pity. The political crap doesn’t even help the peppers grow; it just stinks.

  18. Isn’t capsaicin (the ingredient that makes chili peppers hot) used in pepper spray?

    To echo MadMolecule, a few years back we had a rabbit that ate all of our plants. I didn’t want to put out poison both because I didn’t want to kill the rabbit and also because I didn’t want to potentially harm my kids. So I bought some rabbit/squirrel/deer repellent. It used capsaicin in an egg white suspension to make plants smell bad to animals. Worked beautifully. It only had one drawback: It smelled like buffalo wings. Like really good buffalo wings. More than once I was tempted to taste it. Not going to give in to the temptation, but the next time I spray it, I might be forced to order out for some wings.

  19. I’ve been growing peppers for a couple of years, including the Naga Morich, which is essentially the same pepper as the Bhut jolokia, with similar Scoville scale results. I haven’t found them THAT difficult to grow.

    Please be aware that these are NOT something to toy around with.

    I’m not trying to be blatently commercial, but if you’re interested, search eBay for “naga morich” and you’ll find my wife’s auction for dried naga morich peppers. (eBay sellername = Minacat).

  20. I ate a couple of green jolokias in the final round of a chili-eating competition at Belfast’s (yes, the Ireland one) ChiliFest ’08. The idea was that you’d start with jalapenos (these caused the most drop-outs; why would people who’ve never eaten peppers enter the contest?) and work your way up in elimination rounds through different peppers. I forget exactly what the lineup was, but it was something like jalapeno-ancho-pueblo- 2 bird eyes -scotch bonnet-habanero- bhut jolokia. There were 3 of us left when the jolokias came round, and the idea was to keep going until the last man standing would be the winner.

    It was alright until the jolokias came round. They were something else entirely- I dropped out on my second, the winner lasted to his fourth. Incredible heat, but actually a nicer flavour IMO than habaneros.

  21. I live in southern Spain and grow about 30+ different varieties each year (out of 65 or so types) from the innocuous to the totally insane jolokia. For abundant crops I make a chili ferment with sea salt in cork-sealed stoneware jars. Over a five year period I top these up with new crops, add ginger/garlic etc, then strain the dark viscous oil which is almost pure capsaicin. I use this as a bio-‘friendly’ bug spray – a few drops of capsaicin in washing liquid and water – but caution is strongly advised. The mash and any remaining oil is used to make a Tabasco style sauce with the remaining mush turned into chili paste and jarred. Instructions are here:


  22. I bought some Bhut Jalokia seeds from an online seed shop in the UK and had no problem getting them to grow whatsoever – in London, which isn’t exactly chilli-growing weather-tastic. The plants are almost 6ft tall now and late last year I harvested probably 30-40 chillis from them. They are indeed rather hot.

    Mine are growing indoors on large window sill, so get plenty of light and heat from the central heating. The trick is to sow multiple seeds in one hole. Once they germinate and grow for a bit clip the weaker seedlings to leave the strongest one to grow. A little bit of fertiliser helped, and once the flowers started, pollenate them with a chopstick (or similar object) by gently rubbing it inside the flower to move the pollen around, repeating on all flowers.


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