Understanding the Scoville Scale from top to bottom


If you’ve ever wondered just how hot a hot chili pepper can really get, enter the Scoville Scale.

That’s the scale that helps measure the heat of hot chili peppers. The scale gets its name from none other than Wilbur Scoville. He was an American pharmacist who came up with something in the early 1900s called the Scoville organoleptic test.

That test estimated the Scoville Heat Units, or SHU, with each type of pepper.

As part of the test, Scoville used a dried pepper, then dissolved it in alcohol. That extracted the capsaicinoids, or rather the heat of the pepper, which was then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Trained testers were then given decreasing concentrations of the extracted capsaicinoids and they were tasked with determining when a majority of them could no longer detect the heat. A pepper’s heat level is based on that dilution, in multiples of 100 SHU. Of course, this early method was often subjective based on the tester and sometimes on sensory fatigue from taste-testing so many samples. Researchers now have more reliable methods.

The Scoville Scale, however, is still used today as a clear representation of the heat levels of different varieties of hot peppers. At the very bottom of the scale is the bell pepper with zero SHU. On the flip side, the Carolina Reaper is at the top. A few years ago, Guinness World Records named it the hottest chili pepper in the world. Of course, any species of pepper can vary somewhat due to things like the climate, the soil used to grow the pepper and seed lineage. Still, you can trust that certain types of peppers will generally always be on the hot side. For fans of hot peppers and hot pepper products, that extreme heat is what they’re counting on.

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