Thursday, July 22, 2010

Brazil's "Os Jolokianos" - Lovers of the World's Hottest Pepper

Many Brazilians love hot peppers and put pepper sauce (pimenta in Portuguese) on everything from eggs to rice to pineapples. But, contrary to what many people believe, other Brazilians have little tolerance for anything hot or spicy and flee from the slight hint of pepper heat. Variations in levels of toleration of hot peppers range from the regional to the personal. For example, in Brazil's Northeast, very little use is made of hot peppers, while in the cuisine of Bahia, they are omnipresent and almost obligatory.

In São Paulo, a group of hot pepper enthusiasts, led by photographer Fabiano Batista Marçal, have joined together to celebrate their passion. They call themselves "Os Jolokianos" in homage to the Bhut Jolokia pepper, officially recognized as the hottest in the world, with a Scoville rating over 1 million (Tabasco sauce rates between 2500-5000 on the same scale.) The following is a translation of an article by Olívia Fraga about Os Jolokianos that appeared in the Paladar food section of the newspaper Estado de São Paulo:

Shortly after it was proclaimed the world's hottest pepper in 2000, the Bhut Jolokia pepper went viral on the internet. Because of this,  São Paulo photographer Fabiano Batista Marçal was able to get his hands on a half-dozen of jolokias. The result? Heart beating a thousand times a minute, sweat and tears pouring down. And thus was born his love affair with the "ghost pepper" as its sometimes called.

This passion grew so strong that, when he began tasting and testing the pepper, de decided to video his reactions and post them on YouTube. (Click here for a link to the videos) Friends - even including his ex-wife - were also encouraged to test the pepper while being filmed. Three months later, to improve the visibility of the pepper, Marçal created the site Os Jolokianos.

Before being seduced by the Bhut Jolokia, the photographer haunted supermarkets and food shops in search of "peppers that really burned." He had already worked his way up through the varieties of peppers, and Habaneros and Red Savins no longer had much effect. "Brazilian peppers were never too crazy either," he says.
Entering into a Brazilian site that sold peppers, Marçal was attracted by an announcement for seeds for "nuclear peppers", a generic term that groups together super-hot peppers, including the Trinidad Scorpion, the Fatalii from Africa, and the 7 Pod - all with Scoville ratings of more than 1 million.He planted seeds from all of them, but wasn't successful.

It was just lack of experience, he believes. "I finally encountered Carlos Velazco from Planta Mundo. Besides seeds, he sent me some samples of jolokia planted by the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico. They were slightly smaller than Indian peppers and cost $15 each pepper, "Fabiano says.

From that point on, everything was posted on his site on the Internet. Marçal loved the flavor of the jolokia. He began with a very cautious tasting, making sure that the pepper didn't touch the tip of his tongue. He delayed swallowing, so that he could talk while sampling. The pepper stung, scratched, caused hot flashes, coughing fits and a runny nose. Was there any doubt this pepper was a chemical weapon? "My ex-wife ate a quarter of a dehydrated jolokia and almost died. But the best was a friend of my neighbor who couldn't talk for 11 minutes," he says.

But Marçal still wasn't satisfied. He wanted to to taste a fresh jolokia, whole, from India, the origin of the variety. He found a vendor in Rio de Janeiro who was selling Tezpur Jolokia for $9 each. "It was then that I ate a whole pod, as we call the entire fruit, fresh and unseeded."

He survived.

Today the Jolokianos website sells Bhut Jolokia sauces in Brazil and outside the country. "There's a big community of pepper fanatics in Brazil," says Marçal, who today is official taster at Jolokianos and who buys the fresh peppers from a number of Brazilian producers.

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