Chillies: what is the Scoville spiciness scale?

Chillies: what is the Scoville spiciness scale?

Chillies: what is the Scoville spiciness scale?


  1. How are the units of the Scoville scale (SHU) measured?
  2. HPLC to measure units of capsaicin
  3. Is the Scoville scale just for peppers?
  4. How accurate is the Scoville scale?
  5. What is the hottest pepper on the Scoville scale?
  6. How many Scoville units can a person take?
  7. Who has the world record for consuming hot peppers?
  8. You will never go to bed without tasting another chili

The Scoville scale is a way to measure the degree of spiciness of the fruits of plants of the genus Capsicum, better known as peppers or chillies. The scale was devised in 1912 by American chemist Wilbur Scoville while he was working for Parke Pharmaceuticals trying to find a suitable pepper to use in a heat-producing ointment. It was called this way to calculate the amount of capsaicin present in different peppers, an interesting substance that turns out to be the active component that causes the different degrees of heat.

Capsaicin is responsible for burning the tongue, making the body sweat and can even cause ear pain. In fact, peppers store capsaicin to deter predators from eating them.

1. How Scoville Scale Units (SHU) are measured.

In the past the number of Scoville units was established through an organoleptic test carried out by a group of about five experts who diluted the extract of each pepper (i.e. an alcoholic extract of capsaicin oil from a dried pepper) in sugar water. In this way they gradually changed their ratio until they detected the amount of dilution needed to avoid detecting the spicy sensation of each extract.

So if it took 5,000 teaspoons of sugar water to bring one teaspoon of jalapeño pepper to a "no heat" level for the tasters, then the jalapeño was assigned a Scoville Heat Units (SHU) of 5,000. Similarly, if 450,000 Scoville units are assigned to a Habanero Chocolate pepper, 450,000 teaspoons of sugar water are required to neutralize the heat. There are so many spoons!

Since the 1980s, instead of measuring the subjective sensation of hotness with a panel of human tasters, quantitative laboratory analyzes such as high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) have been used to establish the amount of capsaicin present in different peppers, while using the Scoville scale for its widespread use and out of respect for its inventor.

2. HPLC to measure capsaicin units

HPLC is the scientific process used to separate the components of a mixture for analysis and in this case it tells us how many capsaicinoids (capsaicin and related substances) are present in parts per million. In short, Scoville scale ratings are now assigned based on the amount of capsaicin contained in a pepper (or hot sauce). But it's basically a nostalgic nod to Wilbur Scoville, the pioneer of chili heat measurement, as scientists convert the chromatograph results back to Scoville units. The simplest way to think about this is that one part of the chemical capsaicin per million (ppm) equals about fifteen Scoville units.
But even the HPLC test has doubts about its conversion to Scoville units. Some scientists believe the conversion tends to place peppers' spiciness too low on the scale of a human taster's score. But even so, for something that varies so widely, the Scoville scale is as accurate as it needs to be: it helps hot food fanatics determine the heat of everything from peppers to hot sauces and even the spiciest gourmet foods.
Be that as it may, the Scoville scale starts at 0 (food without capsaicin) and goes all the way up to 16 million (pure capsaicin), considering that a potent product like police pepper spray has a SHU of between 2.5 and 5 million. For reference, a few years ago a US company marketed a hot sauce called "16 Million Reserve" which was just that: pure capsaicin crystals.

The "16 Million Reserve" was awarded the "Most Popular Product in the World" by Guinness World Records. Only 999 of these rare collector's items have been made and can cost up to € 700 each.

3.Is the Scoville scale only for peppers?

The Scoville scale can be used not only for measuring peppers but also for anything made with peppers, such as hot sauce. What is actually measured is the concentration of capsaicin, the active ingredient that produces the tangy and spicy sensation on the tongue. So, if you turn that bottle of Tabasco sauce you probably have in your kitchen and check the label, you'll see its spiciness expressed in Scoville units.
But the Scoville scale can also be used to measure other plants that produce pungent chemicals. For example, resin spurge (Euphorbia resinifera), a cactus-like species native to Morocco, which produces a chemical called resiniferatoxin that is a thousand times more pungent on the Scoville scale than pure capsaicin, a substance that reaches 15 billion SHU: if the devil exists, he could use it to gargle! In fact, the molecule is so powerful that it is now being studied as a potential analgesic for some neuropathic pain and is being used to unravel the mechanisms of pain.

4.How accurate is the Scoville scale?

The Scoville scale is reliable in the sense that it uses an accurate scientific process (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) to measure the amount of capsaicin present in a particular pepper. However, Scoville's ratings also change depending on pepper growing conditions, such as moisture levels and soil type; and also its maturity, seed lineage and other factors, so a jalapeño under optimal growth conditions will have more capsaicin than a jalapeño deprived of nutrients, sunlight, etc.
In fact, you can often see that a pepper has a range on the Scoville scale (eg Boule de Feu peppers range from 300,000 to 400,000 SCU). This variance explains the possible differences in capsaicin between individual Boule de Feu peppers based on their phenotype. However, we can accurately state that this strain's Scoville scale rating makes it a pepper that will provide an exceptional (and for some people, unbearable) amount of heat.

5.What is the hottest chili on the Scoville scale?

There are about 60 species within the Capsicum genus, of which only four are cultivated. However, there are thousands of strains resulting from hybridization and selection, some of which are so spicy that they can even be dangerous to health if not taken with caution. Not all of them have the same "burning power"; in fact there are some, such as sweet peppers and paprika, which do not contain capsaicin, are not spicy and have a zero SHU value. The spicy Padrón peppers that many of us know have between 2,000 and 5,000 Scoville units; and Tabasco sauce, depending on the brand, has between 100 and 50,000 Scoville units.
But since 2013, the Carolina Reaper pepper has held the title of hottest pepper on the Scoville scale. Weighing in at around 2 million SHU, the "reaper" will reclaim the souls of your taste buds and take them straight to hell. It is recommended to handle it with gloves, because ... it's almost like police pepper spray!

The Carolina Reaper is, according to Guinness World Records, considered the hottest pepper in the world
In comparison, the Habanero Red pepper, one of the most common hot peppers, has a SHU of up to 300,000, while our old friend the Cayenne pepper has between 30,000 and 50,000 Scoville units, which is a walk in the park compared to the party that will come to your mouth if you bite into a Bhut Jolokia, which comes in at just over 800,000 SCU, strong enough to be used by the Indian army as an ingredient in a hand grenade used to immobilize the enemy.

6.How many Scoville units can a person take?

In an extreme chili-eating contest, such as those that are part of The League of Fire circuit, which regulates such events around the world, participating victims may be required to eat three to five raw Reaper peppers or 7 to 11 million Scoville units. Imagine falling into a volcano after a long sauna session and you will have a rough idea of ??how hot it will get into your mouth. And the higher you climb the Scoville scale, the more significant the side effects will be.
The mechanics of these races is that with each round, the chillies get stronger and stronger and whoever makes it to the final must eat the hottest chillies as fast as possible. There is also another type of competition, such as that of Nagaland, India, where the emphasis is on speed rather than endurance. Contestants have 20 seconds to eat as many naga peppers (up to 1,500,000 on the Scoville scale) as possible.
In these contests, some participants have reported hallucinating after eating spicy foods in the 6 million SHU range, while higher concentrations can cause vomiting and retching and can even make someone pass out.
However, scientists suggest that it would take about 13 grams of pure capsaicin to kill a 70kg person - fortunately, no chili peppers come close to this level of lethal heat, so you can feel safe eating chillies without worrying about taking out a life insurance policy.

For ordinary people, the Scoville units we can manage will depend on their individual tolerance. Some of us can handle the heat, while others prefer the capsaicin-free world of zero SHU peppers. And there are those who only go as far as the Russian roulette of Padrón peppers, in which some are spicy and others not. If you're just dipping your toes into the world of Scoville, always start with mildly hot peppers to determine your benchmark, then work your way with Scoville heat units to where your little heart will take you.

7. Who has the world record for eating hot peppers?

His name is Gregory Foster, a Californian who entered this year's Guinness Book of Records for eating three of the hottest peppers in the world (Carolina Reaper) in just nine seconds, the shortest time ever recorded. In addition to eating speed, this record is about spice tolerance, which is definitely something to consider if you're eating the hottest peppers in the world.
In fact, Foster didn't just consume three Carolina Reapers to take the record, he had to eat six because his first attempt ended in failure, as he didn't finish swallowing all the peppers before time was up. . On his second attempt, however, and with his mouth already warmed, Foster ate all three Carolina Reaper in just 8.72 seconds, beating the previous record set by Canadian Mike Jack last year, again with three Carolina Reapers, but in this occasion taking slightly longer to take them down: 9.72 seconds.

8. You will never go to bed without tasting another chili

As you can see, once you understand how the Scoville scale works and what it measures, you will more deeply appreciate the wonderful world of hot peppers and where your taste buds fit. The Scoville scale will also help you pick the perfect chili seed packet to grow or for that hot sauce fanatic in your life (and at least we all know one). Plus, the Scoville scale offers a treasure trove of tidbits of information to fill the awkward silences at meals with in-laws. We bet your brother-in-law doesn't even know that a Trinidad Scorpion pepper has 1.2 million UCS, but we're sure he'll be fascinated by this information.

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