Maybe you’ve heard the term before, or maybe it’s a new concept. Either way, you’re probably wondering, what exactly is the Scoville scale? In simple terms, it’s a way of measuring a pepper’s heat. You may think you can determine that yourself at first bite, but in reality, there’s definitely more to it than just that.
It’s true that the “heat” in a pepper can be relative. After all, not everyone has the same reaction to the same pepper. That’s why a man named Wilbur Scoville came up with a test in the early 1900’s. The pharmacist ground up dried pepper and mixed it up with sugar water. He then diluted the product until his taste-testers reported the solution had stopped burning their tongues. After that, he gave the pepper a number corresponding to how many dilutions were needed to tone down the heat. That score translates to Scoville heat units or SHU.
Capsaicin is what makes a pepper hot. For instance, a 1,000,000 rating means that’s how much the solution had to be diluted before tasters could no longer detect the heat, with the scale going up to 16,000,000 Scoville units. Of course, the Scoville scale isn’t exactly scientific because not everyone’s sense of taste and heat is the same. That’s why, now more than a century later, there’s a more scientific way of measuring the heat of a pepper. High-Performance Liquid Chromatography, or HPLC, is said to be more accurate, but in a nod to the past, the results are converted back into Scoville units. So, if you want to know just how “hot” that pepper is, check out the SHU before you bite, and don’t say we didn’t warn you!