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Scoville Heat Units

The Scoville scale, invented by Wilbur Scoville, measures the piquancy or "heat" of a chile pepper (sometimes spelled chili with an 'i'). The number of Scoville Heat Units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin (below) which is what causes the burning heat-sensation in the hot chile pepper.

The Scoville Heat Scale goes from a 0-rating (a bell pepper) to 16 million (pure capsaicin). And although the original method of measurement know as the "Scoville Organoleptic Test" has been replaced with newer methods they still use the same Scoville scale.

Scoville Organoleptic Test

Scoville's method of measurement was called the Scoville Organoleptic Test (you can see why we call it the Scoville Heat Scale can't ya). In Scoville's test, a measured amount of the capsaicin oil from a dried pepper was extracted with alcohol. This capsaicin extract was incrementally added to a solution of water until the "eat" was barely detectable by a panel of taste testers. The degree of dilution gives us the number of Scoville Heat Units or where it falls on the Scoville scale.

Using this scale a sweet pepper or "bell pepper" contains no capsaicin at all so it has 0 SHU's (as shown on my pepper scale). So a low rating indicates little or no "heat". A hotter pepper like a jalapeno has a rating of 3,000 SHU's or sometimes said as "3,000 Scovilles". The hottest chile peppers range from 300,000 to 2-million like the habaneros, ghost peppers and nagas. HOT!!!

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What is Capsaicin

Capsaicin, is a chemical compound in chile peppers which stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, tongue and mucous membranes. Pure capsaicin has a Scoville rating of 16-million SHU. It is colorless, odorless and its form varies from hard crystal to waxy. Capsaicin is the main capsaicinoid in chile peppers; there are other capsaicinoids that are harder to pronounce and are of less importance when talking about the "heat" of a chile.

Where is the heat in a pepper? Mostly the heat or capsaicin is present in high quantities in the seeds, tissue holding the seeds and the internal "ribs" or membranes of a chile pepper. The highest concentration of capsaicin can be found in the white pith where the seeds are attached. You can read more about some of the legitimate and nefarious uses of this chemical on Wikipedia. They also currently include a decent history and the discovery as well.

Other Pages: About Us     |     Who is Wilbur Scoville?     |     Is it Chile or Chili Pepper?