Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Food Fight

     Have you ever watched a comedy show where there is a sort of sexual pervert who maybe hits on a lot of women in a very outlandish way?  Inevitably, some lady will pull out her pepper spray or mace while he's hitting on her and give him a blast in the face, to which he will respond by wiping his eyes, smacking his lips and saying something like "I've been hit with it so many times I'm immune to it, baby" and continue on with his advances.  Yeah, you know what I am talking about.  Well, apparently the Indian Army hasn't seen a show like that, which boggles my mind, because they have introduced an anti-terrorism weapon based on the world's hottest chili pepper.
     Yep, that is right, the military in India, which has produced its own atomic weapons, has turned to the indigenous "bhut jolokia" pepper, whose name I always want to read as "butt joke" although I would guess that it is no joke when it comes out that end the next day, and which the Western media sometimes calls the Ghost Pepper.  Anyway, the bhut jolokia is a pepper that is grown in the northeastern part of India, where it is eaten for its taste, and it is used as a cure for ailing stomachs, and as a way to fight the intense summer heat.  I am not sure how burning off one's taste buds would help to accomplish either the taste part of the heat beating part, but I suppose it would cause one to sweat a little extra and cool off the skin, or maybe it just makes you pass out so you don't notice that it's 91 degrees outside with 112% humidity.  Whatever, who am I to pass judgement, I've never tried it.
     Anyway, the bhut jolokia is the hottest pepper in the world, according to people who measure these things.  They have even devised a scale to prove it.  They use something called a Scoville unit, which measures how much capsaicin is in each pepper, and here is the breakdown:  A sweet bell pepper has no capcasin, so it is at zero Scoville units, standard Tobasco sauce - the kind that Sue Too pours on everything from salads to pizza to Tobasco Sauce - clocks in anywhere from 2500-5000 Scoville units.  That seems to me to be a pretty big range, but I guess it all depends on that year's batch of peppers, etc.  Jalapeno's are in the 2500-8000 area, which makes the Tobasco Sauce range look like a precision measurement.  Habaneros check in at around 200,000 (which means that their extract must be diluted over 300,000 times in a solution of sugar and water before a panel of five testers cannot detect the presence of any capsaicin.  I am not making this up, people actually spend time doing this stuff ).  The red savina pepper, which is the second hottest chili, is rated at 580,000 Scoville units.  The bhut jolokia?  Try 1,040,000.  That's a lot of zeroes.  And twice as many units as the next closest competitor.
     So anyway, one could imagine the potency of bhut jolokia spray being rained down on protestors or whatever.  That is what I am guessing that the Indian Army was thinking about when it devised this plan.  That among other things.  I am guessing that the fact this wouldn't really hurt the people who were exposed to it also came into play: there aren't going to be any long lasting chemical side effects from getting sprayed with chili juice.  Or in the case of this stuff, like a sort of chili powder gas smoke.  That sounds like something MacGyver would mix up.  Anyway, the Indian Army was probably also thinking about cost: nothing has to be imported, and you have a renewable resource.  They could probably even buy the stuff from local farmers and pump some money into the local economy at the same time.  So everyone is a winner, right?
      Now, they have refined and tested this stuff in Indian defence laboratories, and the "chili grenade" has been found fit for use.  "This is definitely going to be an effective nontoxic weapon because its pungent smell can choke terrorists and force them out of their hide-outs."  That's a quote from R.B. Srivastava, who is the head of one of those defence laboratories.  So it all sounds good right?
       I, however, have a few questions.  First of all, law enforcement grade pepper spray usually rates around 5 million Scoville units, which means that it is like five times as strong.  Granted, I can almost assure you that it is more expensive, and it's chemical which means that there could be adverse effects, but I sometimes wonder if it is strong enough.  I suppose, though, that in a confined space like a cave or an apartment or something it wouldn't matter.  But I always just sort of wonder.  Then again, I didn't test it.  And I have never had a bhut jolokia pepper.
      But what about the people who have?  I wonder if anyone has thought about that?  What about the people who live in Assam and Nagaland?  That is where this pepper is grown and eaten.  What if those are the terrorists.  What if those are the people you are lobbing chili grenades at in order to disperse them?  Is is going to be effective then?  Are they even going to skip a beat then?  Or will they just lick their lips like the mace-tolerant pervert from the comedy show?
     What if the batch of peppers the Army uses to make a particular batch of chili bombs isn't as potent.  A lot of things can affect how much capsaicin gets into a particular pepper, hence all the ranges.  A 2005 study in India found that bhut jolokia peppers grown in more arid regions have 50% less heat.  So what is that is where the Army got the last batch from and they just don't do the trick?  I have so many questions.
     This is, however, a defence project, and has been thoroughly tested.  And I am sure the guys in the white lab coats with the guys in camouflage looking over their shoulders have already asked and solved all the questions I just did.  So I suppose I shouldn't worry.  Despite all my questions, I do like this project, however.  I like the thinking behind it and the intent and I am whole heartedly behind this sort of thing.  I wish other groups would take the hint and think along the same lines.  I hope this works well for the Indian Army when they are faced with a group of protestors thowing potatoes at them.  That would make for a food fight for the ages.  Although, it seems to me, a bit of an unfair one, don't you think?

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