The Scoville scale is a measure of the hotness or, more correctly, piquancy of a chili pepper. These fruits of the Capsicum genus contain capsaicin, a chemical compound which stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes. The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Some hot sauces use their Scoville rating in advertising as a selling point.
The scale is named after its creator, American chemist Wilbur Scoville, who developed a test for rating the pungency of chili peppers. His method, which he devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test. An alternative method of quantitative analysis, known as high-performance liquid chromatography, directly measures capsaicinoids and attempts to relate the measured chemical values to the Scoville scale using a mathematical conversion factor.
Scoville Organoleptic Test
In Scoville's method, as originally devised, a solution of the pepper extract is diluted in sugar water until the "heat" is no longer detectable to a panel of (usually five) tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale. Thus a capsicum, sweet pepper or a bell pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, has a Scoville rating of zero, meaning no heat detectable, even undiluted. Conversely, the hottest chiles, such as habaneros, have a rating of 200,000 or more, indicating that their extract has to be diluted 200,000-fold before the capsaicin present is undetectable. The greatest weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity.
High-performance liquid chromatography (the Gillett Method)
Spice heat is now usually measured by a method using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This identifies and measures the heat-producing chemicals. They are then used in a mathematical formula in which they are weighted according to their relative capacity to produce a sensation of heat. This method yields results, not in Scoville units, but in ASTA pungency units. A measurement of one part capsaicin per million corresponds to about 15 Scoville units, and the published method says that ASTA pungency units can be multiplied by 15 and reported as Scoville units. This conversion is approximate, and Tainter and Grenis say that there is consensus that it gives results about 20–40% lower than the actual Scoville method would have given.
List of Scoville ratings
Pungency values for any pepper, stated in Scoville units, are imprecise, due to expected variation within a species—easily by a factor of 10 or more—depending on seed lineage, climate and even soil (this is especially true of habaneros). The inaccuracies described in the measurement methods above also contribute to the imprecision of these values. When interpreting Scoville ratings, this should be kept in mind.
|Scoville rating||Type of pepper|
|2,000,000–5,300,000||Standard U.S. Grade pepper spray |
|855,000–1,041,427||Naga Jolokia |
|350,000–580,000||Red Savina Habanero|
|100,000–350,000||Habanero chili, Scotch Bonnet |
|100,000–200,000||Rocoto, Jamaican Hot Pepper , African Birdseye|
|50,000–100,000||Thai Pepper, Malagueta Pepper, Chiltepin Pepper, Pequin Pepper|
|30,000–50,000||Cayenne Pepper, Ají pepper , Tabasco pepper|
|4,500–5,000||New Mexican varieties of Anaheim pepper, Hungarian Wax Pepper|
|500–2,500||Anaheim pepper |
|100–500||Pimento , Pepperoncini|
|0||No heat, Bell pepper |
- The Journal of the American Pharmacists Association 1912; 1:453–4
- Tainter, Donna R. (2001). Spices and Seasonings. Wiley-IEEE. pp. p.30. ISBN 0-471-35575-5. Unknown parameter
|coauthors=ignored (help) — "Interlab variation [for the original Scoville scale] could be as high as + / - 50%. However, labs that run these procedures could generate reasonably repeatable results."
- Uhl, Sushella (May 1996). "Fire and Spice". Food Product Design. — "Scoville unit measurements cause errors due to build up of heat, rapid taste fatigue, increased taste threshold, and poor reproducibility. Scott Harris, technical service manager for Cal Compack Foods, Santa Ana, CA is quoted as saying "The coefficient of error is 50% for the Scoville method and less than 12% for the HPLC method."
- Uhl (1996), op. cit. "The HPLC measures the capsaicinoid(s) in ppm, which can then be converted to Scoville units using a conversion factor of 15, 20 or 30 depending on the capsaicinoid." This would make capsaicin 15,000,000
- de Bruxelles, Simon (1 April 2006). "The chilli so hot you need gloves". Times.
- "By commercial HPLC analysis in 2004".
- "High SC rating report for Jolokia acknowledged as sighted by Dorset Naga cultivar developer".
- Shaline L. Lopez (2007). "NMSU is home to the world's hottest chile pepper" (html). Retrieved 2007-02-21.
- AP (23 February 2007). "World's hottest chili pepper a mouthful for prof". CNN. Archived from the original on 2007-03-22.
- "What is a Habanero Pepper?". wisegeek.com. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
- "World's hottest chile pepper discovered". American Society for Horticultural Science. Retrieved 2008-03-31.
- "Chile Pepper Heat Scoville Scale". About.com. Retrieved 2006-09-25.
- "Anaheim Pepper" (PDF). Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- "Capsicum annuum 'Hungarian Wax'". Retrieved 2008-04-05.
- "Anaheim Pepper". Truestar Health Encyclopedia. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-17.