The capsicum genus of plants is native to the New World, with Capsicum chinense specifically originating from the Amazon Basin. Within each capsicum species there are many varieties. This particular variety of C. chinense is called Bhut Jolokia, but is more commonly known as the Ghost Pepper. There are over 3000 varieties/cultivars of C. chinense. These cultivars came about through human-induced artificial selection and hybrid matings so did not originate in the wild.
The cultivated/domesticated varieties of capsicum differ from the natural varieties in predictable ways because they have been selected for specific characteristics, namely fruit size/weight and levels of the capsicum alkaloid (which determine its spiciness). The cultivated varieties have dangling (pendant) fruits and short styles, whereas the natural varieties have erect fruits and a longer style to permit insect pollination as opposed to the self-pollination favoured in cultivated varieties. The ghost pepper contains some genes from the C. frutescans species in addition to the majority of its genes that are derived from the wild C. chinense species (Purkayastha et al, 2012).
The concentrations of the capsicum alkaloid are responsible for the varying degrees of spice of different chili peppers. Capsicum is not broken down by the mammalian digestive system, and in nature it has the effect of deterring mammalian herbivores from eating the fruits. Humans utilize these peppers mainly for pepper sprays and only the brave use them in cooking. The highest concentration of capsicum in a pepper is found in the placenta, which is the middle region of the pepper where the seeds are attached.
The ghost pepper is one of two varieties of Bhut Jolokia chili peppers. It is the red variety and is considered to be the hotter of the two, with a Scoville heat rating of between 1 and 1.5 million. Until the discovery of the Trinidad Scorpion Pepper in 2007, the ghost pepper was considered to be the world’s hottest pepper. The Chocolate Bhut Jolokia pepper is darker in colour than its red relative and is also milder. This ‘chocolate’ variety was cultivated in the Assam region of India.
Armstrong, W. P. (2012). The Wayne’s world chili pepper edition. Wayne’s World. Retrieved from http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0401.htm on January 8, 2014.
Feiertag, S. (2013). Capsicum – photo index of chili and hot pepper varieties and cultivars. Retrieved from http://www.ethno-botanik.org/Capsicum/Pictures-capsicum-hot-pepper.html on January 8, 2014.
Purkayastha, J.; Alam, S. I.; Gogoi, H. K.; Singh, L.; Veer, V. (2012). Molecular characterization of ‘Bhut Jolokia’ the hottest chili. J. Biosci, 37(4). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22922200 on January 8, 2014.
WildChilli. (2014). Wild Capsicum Species. Retrieved from http://www.wildchilli.eu/wild-capsicum-species on January 8, 2014.