Asking for a Friend: What is the Scoville Heat Scale?

Asking for a Friend: What is the Scoville Heat Scale?

The quest for the hottest pepper never ends but people like Ed Currie are on the case. His Carolina Reaper peppers are some of the hottest in the world.

Eating one hot pepper after another to see how hot they are might not sound like fun (although lots of people might think so) but fortunately, that’s not necessary. The Scoville Heat Scale was created so you could judge just how hot a pepper is going to be without risking your tastebuds.

How does the scale work? Let’s take a look.

A Brief History of the Scoville Heat Scale

The heat scale is an invention by a pharmacologist named Wilbur Scoville in 1912. It measures the pungency of the pepper related to how much capsaicin they contain. Capsaicin is what makes a pepper hot. The more it contains, the hotter it is.

Scoville tested peppers by creating a solution with each pepper that he had five people test. He diluted the solution more and more until the heat was gone entirely. The amount of dilution it took for the heat to disappear determined where the pepper scored on the scale.

Modern testing is a little more scientific than those early days. Today, instead of getting the opinions of five people, peppers get measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) which measures the amount of heat-producing chemicals in the pepper.

What the Numbers on the Scale Mean

The Scoville scale is broken down into multiples of 100. A pepper’s rating is determined by how many parts of water are necessary to dilute an equal number of parts of the pepper solution.

For example, if it takes 100 teaspoons of water to eliminate the heat in one teaspoon of the pepper solution, it would get a Scoville rating of 100. Two of the same type of peppers are never identical. Where they’re grown, the conditions they’re grown in, and their size can affect how much capsaicin they contain. For that reason, they’re usually rated within a range of heat units.

Pure capsaicin is rated between 15 and 16 million Scoville heat units. This is unbearably hot for anyone to eat. AKA…you will die!

Where Common Peppers Land on the Scale

Bell peppers are the mildest type of pepper, rated at 0 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Banana peppers aren’t much hotter, rated between 0 and 500 SHU.

As you move up from there, things start to heat up. Anaheim peppers range between 500 and 2,500 SHU and one of the most common hot peppers, the jalapeño, is rated between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU.

That sounds like a lot and if you’ve ever bitten into a fresh jalapeño, you might be able to attest to that being true. But the jalapeño is a relative lightweight.

Moving up the scale, you’ll find cayenne peppers (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), Thai peppers (50,000 to 100,000 SHU), and habanero peppers (100,000 to 350,000 SHU).

The highest-rated pepper that most people might have experienced is the ghost pepper, rated at 800,000 to 1,000,000 SHU. That’s a long way from the top of the scale though.

The World’s Hottest Pepper (For Now)

The hottest pepper in the world right now, which holds the Guinness World Record, is the Carolina Reaper from the Puckerbutt Pepper Company. The creator, Ed Currie, has dedicated his life to making hotter and hotter peppers. (He has also dedicated his life to making Benny and I miserable, see our interaction with him at the 2019 New York City Hot Sauce Expo).

The Carolina Reaper is rated at 2,200,000 Scoville Heat Units. Compare that to standard pepper spray, which is rated between 2 million and 5 million SHU.

Trust us, if you’re cooking with Carolina Reapers, wear gloves and don’t get your hands anywhere near your eyes!

How Do You Know if a Pepper Will be Hot?

Have you ever looked at a colorful pile of peppers in the supermarket and wondered how hot they would be? There are a couple of things that can give you an idea before you do a taste test.

First, the size of the pepper is a good indication of how hot it will be. The smaller the pepper, the hotter. Smaller peppers tend to have a higher concentration of capsaicin, giving them more bang for the buck.

The other sign is how “bumpy” the outside of the pepper is. This isn’t always true – there are plenty of smooth peppers that pack plenty of heat. But peppers with a lot of bumps and ridges tend to be hotter than their smooth companions.

If you find a small pepper that looks like a wrinkled old man, look out – it’s probably pretty hot.

What About Hot Sauces?

Hot sauces are also rated using the Scoville Heat Scale, based on the same process as the peppers. They’re rated based on how many dilutions are necessary to get rid of any trace of heat.

One of the most well-known hot sauces is Tabasco sauce, which you’ll find most grocery stores and restaurants. Tabasco is rated between 2,000 and 5,000 SHU so while it’s reasonably hot, it’s a long way from the top.

If you want to move past Tabasco sauce and experience some new tastes and new levels of heat, there are lots of other brands to choose from. Brands like Death by Chili and Blair’s Mega Death sauce take you way up the Scoville scale.

Even the names sound hot!

Blair’s Mega Death Sauce, for example, contains cayenne (30,000 to 50,000 SHU), chipotle (5,000 to 10,000 SHU), and habanero (100,000 to 350,000 SHU) peppers making it one of the hottest sauces you’ll find.

Hot Sauces at Every Step of the Scoville Heat Scale

Whether you only want a little bite to your hot sauce or you want something that will practically burn a hole in your tongue, Flower City Flavor Company has you covered. We’ve got sauces at every step of the Scoville Heat Scale, from level 1 all the way up to level 10.

Build a custom Hot Sauce Box with your personal selections of hot sauces from all heat levels and Scoville units here. Get in touch with us today to find the perfect flavor for you!

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