Kitchen Notes

What is the Scoville Scale?

by Michael  Lathrop on Jun 18, 2019

A lot of hot sauce and chili pepper enthusiasts may be familiar with the term Scoville Scale. However, those who are new to making your own hot sauce or want to learn more about the world of chilies, the Scoville Scale is a number from 0 to infinity that describes the heat intensity of a chili pepper. Let's take a look at the history of the Scoville Scale and how popular peppers measure up today!

History of the Scoville Scale 

The Scoville Scale was named after an American pharmacist by the name of Wilbur Scoville. He created the scale by performing a taste test in 1912. Participants would try chili peppers that were watered down with varying amounts of sugar water.

This practice would continue until the heat was no longer present. Each serving of sugar water stood for a unit of heat. For instance, a pepper with a Scoville level of 250 must be diluted 250 times. Today this is known as Scoville Heat Units (SHU). 

How the Scoville Scale is Measured 

There are many particles in a pepper that causes our mouth to burn. The most prominent and well-researched is capsaicin. Capsaicin has shown to irritate mammal tissue, including the tongue and lips. The more capsaicin in a pepper, the spicier it is going to be. Therefore, those peppers will have a higher number of the Scoville Scale.

The only compound to surpass capsaicin in heat is a chemical known as resiniferatoxin. Resiniferatoxin is a compound found in cactus-like plants in Morrocco and Nigeria. It is molecularly similar to capsaicin, but their differences are monumental. This exotic compound clocks in at 16 billion SHU, making it up to 1,000 hotter than the next higher member of the Scoville Scale! 

Chili Peppers on the Scoville Scale

Like numbers, the Scoville Scale is infinite. The lowest you can get on the Scoville Scale is a zero, like bell peppers. As you climb, you will notice a lot of the most popular peppers like jalapeño (2,500 - 10,000 SHU), cayenne (30,000 - 50,000 SHU), and orange habanero (150,000 to 300,000 SHU). 

Scoville Scale

The hottest chili pepper known to humankind is the Carolina Reaper. At it's hottest, this pepper reaches 1,641,000 SHU!

Why Are Scovilles for Peppers Different?

You may have noticed that each chili pepper has a range on the Scoville scale. Like every person and snowflake, all chili peppers are unique. Their genetic makeup depends on everything from the amount of sun they receive to the soil they were grown in, to how soon they were picked. 

The earlier you pick a pepper, the less spicy it will be. In the same breath, it will also be crispier and more bitter. For a sweeter pepper, you wait longer. However, with that sweetness comes a bite. That's why we love chili peppers.

Alternates to the Scoville Scale

There is no doubt that the Scoville Scale is the most widely accepted way to classify heat intensity in foods. However, it's not the most scientific. SHUs are crafted by subjectiveness. If a taste-tester has a higher heat tolerance than the one next to them, that could influence the SHU rating.

Since 1912, science and technology have evolved. Now, we have High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). HPLC tests the oils within the chili pepper to determine a correct heat level. 1 HPLC rating is equal to 15 Scovilles. While more accurate, the industry still leans on the Scoville Scale. 

Make Homemade Hot Sauce

Think you're a Scoville know-it-all now? Put your new knowledge to good use. Try out the Homemade Hot Sauce Kit. We deliver everything you need to make two artisan hot sauce flavors in your very own home.

Not sure about making your own hot sauce? No problem. Sample what making your own hot sauce tastes like with our unique blend of Chili Flakes.

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No crafting necessary. Just sprinkle onto your meal, and you're good to go!