Mustard gas, which was used extensively in the First World War, may be yellow and smell like mustard, but it’s not made from mustard seeds at all. (It’s comprised of carbon, sulfur, chlorine and hydrogen.) But when the Indian military talks about their new chili grenades, they are in fact talking about pepper weapons made from the bhut jolokia chili.
That plant long ago earned a spot in the Guinness World Records as the hottest chili in the world. The spiciness of chilies is weighted in Scoville units, which measure the amount of capsaicin—a nerve-stimulating chemical compound—in a pepper. A bell pepper has zero Scoville units; an jalapeno can have as many as 8,000; a Scotch bonnet can have 350,000. The bhut jolokia has over a million. A tiny fraction of one can be used in curries; it’s also recommended for stomach troubles. In 2007, farmers in the northeastern Indian state of Assam started spreading a bhut jolokia paste on fences to deter rampaging wild elephants from destroying homes and crops.
The Indian military has been working on weaponizing the seeds of the bhut jolokia for the past year, for use in traditional pepper spray jurisdictions such as crowd control and women’s personal safety. Their primary objective, however, is to develop a non-toxic grenade to use against insurgents and terrorists. R.B. Srivastava, of the military’s Defence Research and Development Organisation, told the BBC: “Its pungent smell will force the target victim to throw up and the eyes will burn like hell, but all without any long-term damage.”
The bombs’ effectiveness might not be universal. Though one chef died in 2008 after eating a whole bhut jolokia on a dare, there are several YouTube videos of people sweating through the experience. In 2007, a 26-year-old woman from Assam ate 51 bhut jolokias in two minutes to set a world record—and followed that up by rubbing them in her eyes. She survived.