The restaurant owner asks me my job.
“At the moment, I’m writing about chilli peppers.”
“The Dorset Naga?”
To chilli aficionados, gastronomes of the fire-breathing variety, the mythical Dorset Naga needs no introduction. But in case you don’t own a restaurant for discerning spice-junkies, I’ll fill you in.
Once upon a time (2005), a horticulturist named Michael Michaud went shopping. In a little imported food outlet (an Oriental food shop in Bournemouth, England), he stumbled on a pack of tiny wrinkled things from Bangladesh, called Naga Morich (‘serpent chillies’). He bought them out of curiosity, went home to his pretty seaside farm, and tried one.
After regaining consciousness and scraping himself off the ceiling, he gradually relearned how to use his face. He was in love. In the years that followed, through selectively breeding the hottest seeds of the already mind-shattering Naga Morich, he developed a new and absurdly vicious strain. His Dorset farm sold a quarter of a million in a year, to acceptably demented people all around the world. The Dorset Naga was born.
The Dorset Naga is not a hot chilli pepper. Hot relates to a scale merely from ‘mild’ (perhaps a Poblano or Jalepeño) to ‘very hot’ – something like a scorching Habanero, containing exhilarating capsaicin levels equating to around 200,000 Scoville Heat Units. The Dorset Naga fits into an altogether different scale of fiery magnitude. One of unimaginable fury. Dorset Nagas were this planet’s first peppers to smash the ONE MILLION Scoville Unit holy grail. That gave the Dorset Naga double the firepower of the world record holder at the time, the revered Red Savina. The chilli world had a new don.
And it got sillier. After growing these tiny incendiaries for a while, Dorset Naga inventor Michael Michaud and his wife Joy got the research guys round again. In 2006, bespectacled people with clipboards from Warwick University’s International Horticultural Research Unit got their pipettes on the latest Dorset Naga. It weighed in at 1,598,227 Scoville Heat Units. To understand the meaning of this number, please contemplate that it’s slightly higher than the Scoville Heat Units of many law enforcement grade pepper sprays. A London restaurant used a modicum of Dorset Naga to make the world’s hottest curry – the ‘Bollywood Burner’. Dorset Naga seeds are so radiant with brutal capsaicin, pickers have to wear gloves and work only outdoors in strong winds, to avoid eye pain. I rest my case. The Dorset Naga is a monster.
If there is an Almighty Creative Intelligence that made everything, it must have been feeling very, very inspired when it oversaw the birthing of the Dorset Naga.
“Nonsense”, you cry. “It’s just a pepper you fool, not a dolphin.”
That may be true, but when one considers the Dorset Naga’s humbling heat, remarkable taste (distinctive fruity bursts of orange and pineapple) and extraordinary health benefits (more on that shortly), a strange wave of appreciation for the beautiful and ferocious little Dorset Naga comes over us.
I’m not alone in my feeling that the Dorset Naga is a little bit special.
When Dorset Nagas hit British supermarket shelves in 2007 (with health warnings and nationwide press releases), supply could not keep up with demand. The BBC ran stories on them. Magazines coveted interviews with the Dorset Naga growers. In an interview for national television, the happily bewildered Michauds beamed, “It’s like winning the lottery”. The Dorset Naga was an instant and triumphant smash.
I watched the video of the Dorset Naga’s first known victim – an apprentice on the Michauds’ originating farm, coaxed by its creator to eat a whole one (who then withheld the milk from him – they’re all heart, these horticulturists). It wasn’t pretty. There was weeping. And grimacing. The poor student lunged for the (denied) milk after only a minute. After ten minutes, oral extrusion I shan’t linger on. Even a few muscle spasms (as an emergency nurse, I started to get interested at this point).
My point is, it’s fun to watch videos of manly men regretting eating horrendously savage chillies whole. No, sorry, that’s not my point. My point is that you should not eat an entire Dorset Naga. Best leave that to Bangladeshis who were born with granite oesophagi. Instead, harness the Dorset Naga’s awesome power and fruity taste by adding a tiny (and therefore very economical) smidgen to stews, soups, pizzas, bakes, potatoes, marinades, salsas.
Ah yes – the astounding health benefits. Dorset Nagas and other chillies stimulate the metabolism. They fight cancer. They help diabetics. They are vitamin-rich and contain immune-boosting antioxidants. They reduce cholesterol… click on the “Benefits of Peppers” header of our website for the comprehensive rundown of the amazing and reassuring things they can do for us mere mortals.
In conclusion boys and girls, the Dorset Naga is not for everyone. Having a digestive tract not made of asbestos usually precludes people from indulging. But. If you should be drawn, mesmerised and stupefied, to the Dorset Naga – like a male praying mantis to his mate – it’s an engaging but rewarding ride. And if eating Dorset Naga pepper as part of an outdoor picnic, please ensure that you defecate in a stream, so as to prevent forest fires.