A truly exotic organic crop from the hilly state of Nagaland renders a fiery experience of massive proportion! Nagaland’s interesting folklore mentions Chüdi (Angami language, “King of Hotness”) and Chaibe (Zeliangrong language, “Leader/Chieftain”) – the regional titles conferred on the famed Naga mircha holding it in great esteem.
The traditional Naga chilli is considered to be a variant of the renowned bhut jolokia (meaning ghost chilli/pepper). Locals say that bhut jolokia was used in warfare because of its hotness. It is said that the chilli is so hot that Indian soldiers deployed in this region used to hang a bunch of it outside their tent to protect themselves from wild animals and possible ambushes. The pungency and strong aroma of bhut jolokia used to send the unwanted visitors packing. A small trace of the chilli also used to be added in the food to improve the blood circulation of the soldiers posted in colder regions.
Naga chilli or Raja mircha is an indigenous crop of Nagaland believed to have originated from Zeliangrong area of Nagaland and is extensively grown in Peren, Mon, Kohima and Dimapur. The Naga mircha is small in size taking on a brilliant red colour when mature. The crop is very sensitive to weather conditions and needs to be grown in soil that has the right quantity of water for them to germinate and the appropriate amount of sun rays to attain their flaming best.
Cultivation of Naga chilli thrives best in and around bamboo and banana plantations and in lands that have been used for cultivation for decades. The bamboo fields are slashed and burned before cultivation as this technique will ensure optimum soil quality and higher degree of hotness in the chillies.
The chillies are generally dried in the sun after which they are either frozen or smoked for preservation. Normally, the stalks of the chillies are broken before preservation as it will preserve green chilli and red chilli for a longer time. A pinch of asafoetida or a little groundnut oil is added to retain the colour of the chilli.
The chilli has an appealing aroma and distinctive pungency and is consumed either in the fresh or dried form in every Naga household. The chillies are sometimes processed and also made into pickles and sold locally. It is considered to be one of the hottest chillies in the world clocking in over 10,00,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale for pungency.
Naga mircha has high levels of capsaicin and is abundantly used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics like pain balms, skin ointments and prickly heat powder. Tribal community have been using it as an insect repellent and an antivenom.
As Nagaland is actively into organic farming, efforts and various new innovative techniques are being promoted to increase the area under cultivation to match the increasing demands. As per the current records, over twenty lakh Naga natives are the primary consumers and growers of this chilli. The Naga mircha fetches about Rs 2,000 – Rs 2,400 per kg within India. The Department of Horticulture also sponsors the Naga chilli eating competition every year coinciding with the Hornbill Festival to give curious visitors a chance to experience the fire burst in their mouth!
The fiery hot Naga mircha received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2007.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)