Saturday, June 6, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Indian Snacks, and the World's Hottest Food

     So, for the first time in a grocery store I found premade Indian snacks for sale.  (Incidentally, I mean Indians as in the country, not Native Americans.)  The store, Stop & Shop, had a decent international foods selection in general.  And evidently the area between Princeton and New Brunswick, NJ, has a decent sized population of folks with Indian ancestry, or at least customers who like the cuisine. 
     Obviously, given the theme of this type of blog post, I’m pretty much always willing to try new and exotic foods.  However, in this case I was particularly eager, as I’m quite the fan of Indian food.  Everything from the appetizers, to the entrees, to the bread on the side, to the yogurt-based beverages are very tasty.
     Here are the snack foods I found.  I’m yet again using the U.S. scholastic method for grading—A for excellent, B for good, C for average, D for unsatisfactory but barely passing, F for failing, and pluses and minuses as necessary.

Peanut Bhujia, distributed by Deep Foods, Inc., made in the U.S.A.  These were peanuts wrapped in a coating made of chick pea flour, corn starch, corn and canola oils, urad flour, salt, chili, black salt, mango powder, black pepper, citric acid and spices:  A-.  I love peanuts, and these were basically just crunchier, spicier versions.

Cruncy Chor, also a Deep Foods, U.S.A. made product.  These were tiny yellowish crackers made from chickpeas, corn and canola oil, salt, red pepper, black salt, citric acid, and spices:  B-.  These were pretty good, but not as palatable as the previous bhujia.  Spicy again.  Rather messy to eat, too, as the crackers were easily broken into essentially powder.

Hot N’ Crunchy, once again distributed by Deep Foods, but actually made in India.  Clearly, this is a generic name—I couldn’t find a more specific one on the bag, or during brief internet research.  This snack looked sort of like trail mix, with small rods, pea sized spheres, and tiny crackers all together.  Made from gram flour, rice flour, rice flakes, corn flakes, peanuts, palm oil, red chilis, and spices:  B+.  These had a chip-like flavor to them, which I suppose comes from the corn flakes.  Decent again, and also spicy.

     Therefore, even the worst of these was still pretty good.  I would recommend any of them, unless you’re not into spicy foods.  Because the spice is noticeable—I could only eat a moderate amount at a sitting, as the spice grew on me.
     Speaking of spice, I was curious about the hottest foods in the world.  I’ve been in multiple restaurants that advertised extremely spicy food, usually in the form of hot chicken wings.  Back in my college days, I remember chowing down on the Thermonuclear wings at Cluck U Chicken in New Brunswick, NJ.  During one particularly embarrassing, (drunken) night, I was so overwhelmed by the wings that I drank the ranch side dressing to try to get some relief.  Some places which tout ridiculously hot foods even require potential customers to sign a legal waiver so the restaurant doesn’t get sued if you harm yourself.
     The standard scale used in defining food hotness is the Scoville Scale, named after its developer, the pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, in 1912.  Various types of pepper are the undisputed hotness title holders.  Back in 2007, the champ was the Bhut Jolokia, commonly known as the ghost pepper.  It scored a high of 1,000,000 Scoville units.  But the hot pepper game is constantly changing, so it was surpassed repeatedly in a short amount of time.  The Infinity Chili scored a 1,067,286, and then the Naga Viper Pepper got 1,382,118.  Then the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion scored a 2,000,000.  The latest champ is the Carolina Reaper (whose original moniker was the boring “HP22BNH”), which clocks in with a high of 2,200,000.  It’s a cross between the ghost pepper and a red habenaro.  Its developer is Ed Currie of the South Carolina based PuckerButt Pepper Company (really).
     I should note all of these scores are somewhat controversial.  Some folks contend that the Scoville Scale is too subjective.  They point out that the Scoville process involves 5 (trained) human tasters judging each candidate (after it’s been dried and dissolved in alcohol, and then diluted in a sugar water solution).  Differences in the human raters’ personal tastes, or simply sensory fatigue (taste buds can be desensitized after repeated tastings) can lead to different scores from different spice labs.  An alternate method is considered more objective and empirical, since it measures the capsaicin amounts (the substance that causes pepper hotness) using high performance liquid chromatography, and comes up with American Spice Trade Association Pungency Units.  (Roughly, one of these corresponds with 15 Scoville units.)
     But, my personal favorite will always be the fictional pepper featured in the chili cook off episode of “The Simpsons.”  It’s the episode where Chief Wiggum uses a super hot pepper which causes Homer to run off in a panic, and have various terrifying yet ultimately insightful hallucinations, assisted by his coyote spirit animal, voiced by Johnny Cash.  I’ll end by including Wiggum’s description:  “The merciless pepper of Quetzalacatenango… grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.”

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