3 of the world's hottest chilies to heat up your winter, plus 1 mild pepper for the more faint of heart

In celebration of International Hot and Spicy Food Day, we've rounded up a list of ingredients that range from fragrant to piquant and occasionally even painful, depending on whom you ask.

Ghost chilies, an '11 out of 10' shouldn't be handled with your bare hands, warns spice expert

Jayson Thomson, sales associate at the Silk Road Spice Merchant in Calgary's Inglewood neighbourhood, says it's 'exciting that people are willing to explore different types of chilis, or hot cuisines.' (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Today is International Hot and Spicy Food Day, a celebration of ingredients that range from fragrant to piquant and occasionally even painful, depending on whom you ask. 

"If I'm not sweating when I'm eating something spicy, then it's not hot enough," laughed Jayson Thomson, sales associate at Silk Road Spice Merchant in Calgary.

Whether you're a heat-seeking daredevil or a cautious explorer in the vast and colourful world of spice, there's a spice out there to suit your appetite.

If you're looking to push your boundaries, here are three of the hottest chilies available in Calgary, as recommended by Thomson, and one more moderate chili for those with a milder heat preference.

1. Ghost chili

The ghost chili earned the Guinness World Record as the world's hottest pepper in 2007, but was superseded in 2011 by the infinity chili.

The bhut jolokia, more commonly known as the ghost chili, is one that strikes fear and admiration into the hearts of even the most enthusiastic spice aficionados.

An "11 out of 10" on the spice scale, it's not for the faint of heart, said Thomson.

If you feel up to the challenge, he suggests experimenting with a small amount of the chili pepper in a pineapple or mango chutney sauce, which will highlight the chili's natural burnt mango flavour.

2. Habanero

Habaneros range in colour from yellow to deep red, like the one seen above. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Ringing in at a solid 10 out of 10 in terms of heat, habanero chilies are among the hottest on the planet.

With a tropical, fruity flavour, these lantern-shaped chilies pack a mean punch, Thomson said.

"It looks basically just like a cherry, but I wouldn't eat it," he cautioned.

In fact, his shop advises customers to wear gloves when handling these especially hot chilies, as the spicy surface oils can penetrate human skin, causing irritation.

Obvious problems will arise if people then rub their eyes or nose with their hands after handling a chili this hot.

3. Bird's eye chili

The bird's eye chili is from the same species as the African Bird Chili, also known as peri peri, and is similar in appearance, flavour and heat. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The bird's eye chili, grown in India and southeast Asia, is a widely used hot pepper in that region of the world.

Thomson characterizes this one as a 9 out of 10 on the spice scale.

It's known to have a delayed potency, meaning heat will gradually build the more you eat.

4. Cascabel

Dried cascabels can also be soaked in hot water to soften their hard, outer skin, making them easier to incorporate in some dishes. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

For those who are looking for a more gentle introduction to the world of spice, Thomson suggests the cascabel.

Spanish for "rattle," these chilies earned their name from the sound they make. When dried, the brownish-red chilies retain their shape, and the seeds inside bounce against the crispy outer shell.

Cascabels carry a moderate heat and a deep, nutty flavour. Measuring a 4 or 5 out of 10 in terms of heat, they can be ground up and incorporated into mild salsas and stews.

With files from Monty Kruger