There are hot sauces, and then there are Scoville sauces that are just so ridiculously hot that you’ll cry a bit when you eat them. And, hot sauces are getting hotter all the time. These so-called Scoville sauces are no longer bottles that you can leave on the table at a restaurant – mainly because it’s just not safe for children to be anywhere near them. Maybe it’s not even safe for you? Can you handle the heat?
The Scoville Scale
So, here’s the low-down on the Scoville scale. Back in the day (1912), Wilbur Scoville set about measuring the heat found in chili peppers. He was a pharmacist, not a hot sauce aficionado, but there’s no reason for these passions to be mutually exclusive. At the time, he was far more concerned with measuring the heat of chili peppers, not hot sauces. And that’s because there just weren’t that many (if any) commercially available fiery sauces.
In any case, Wilbur Scoville set about measuring the heat of chili peppers through the use of human subjects. And, the test he developed was almost entirely subjective. That’s to be expected, of course, considering the time of his operation. But, his measurements were provided by humans who would sample his chili peppers and capsaicin extracts. These were given a measurement based on how diluted a sample needed to be in order to consume it without pain.
Today, we’ve become a lot more accurate when it comes to measuring Scoville sauces and the chili peppers they’re derived from. Today, people sample Scoville sauces for fun, while more accurate measurement methods are used in the laboratory. But, sauces and peppers are still ranked according to their Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Pure capsaicin (the active compound in chili peppers that make them fiery hot) ranks 16 million on the Scoville scale. There are, of course, plenty of different levels of hot that fall underneath that.
So What’s the Difference between Hot Sauces and Scoville SaucesTechnically, anything that ranks above zero on the Scoville scale is considered a sauce is a Scoville sauce. But that’s the scientific view of sauces. It’s a lot different in practice though. Most people consider condiments that rate between 100,000 SHU and 1 million SHU as Scoville sauces. Anything less than that is just considered a hot sauce. That includes sauces like Tabasco that carry a mere 5,000 SHU. On the other side of 1 million SHU are pepper extracts. These are not Scoville sauces, but rather food extracts – and there is a difference. Pepper extracts cannot be consumed in large amounts as it would be such an unbelievable shock to the body.
Most Scoville sauces, such as the original Mad Dog 357 Hot Sauce, fall somewhere between 200,000 SHU and 600,000 SHU. Mad Dog 357 pulls in at 357,000 SHU making it a sincere Scoville sauce. The Mad Dog Silver Collector’s Edition, on the other hand, pulls in at 750,000 SHU making it one of the hottest Scoville sauces you can imagine.
What do you need to know before adding Scoville sauces to your meals? Go easy at first. It’s almost impossible to enjoy one of these super hot sauces before you build up a certain tolerance and expectation. A drop or two is likely all your need at first. Use that time to develop an appreciation for the simultaneous burn and flavor. And yes, you’ll absolutely become addicted in no time at all, so be prepared for all the fantastic health benefits that come with Scoville sauces and living life to the hottest.