3 Ways to Test the Heat Level of a Hot Sauce


How hot is your homemade hot sauce? You may have spent a lot of time working on the recipe and would like some boasting rights on the heat level of your sauce or would like a reference point for some other sauces you are making. Knowing the heat level or SHU of your sauce is also a great technique for marketing. Either way you should know how hot your sauce is.

Testing the heat of a hot sauce can be done with High Performance Liquid Chromatography testing, using a Scoville Meter or eating it. Hot sauce can be sent to a lab to be tested or performed with a handheld Scoville Meter in your own kitchen. This will give the precise SHU (Scoville Heat Unit) of your sauce. Testing it by tasting it will give an approximate level of heat as a reference point against other sauces.

Testing a sauce for the SHU level (Scoville Heat Unit) is much more accurate than describing the heat based on your own taste buds, although that is a quick way of testing it against other sauces. There are methods that are much more scientific and accurate and will give your sauce a literal SHU rating.

Don’t guess at the SHU of your hot sauce…get tested!

Scoville scale

Understanding the Scoville scale will give a semi accurate rating of the heat level to the hot peppers that you are using to make a hot sauce. There is usually a range given for each type of pepper and depending on the ingredients you are using, the heat level could be affected by what the peppers are mixed with in the hot sauce as well.

Knowing the SHU of the peppers you are using is a good start. Most likely the variety of peppers has already been tested in a laboratory setting or has a SHU rating that is relatively accurate. This rating can change as the peppers are made into a hot sauce. Read more on The 25 Most Common Hot Peppers Used In Hot Sauce and get the FREE Info Graphic depicting the SHU and flavor profile of each pepper.

Vinegar, water and other liquid substances will dilute the concentrated peppers and will ultimately alter the SHU of your sauce. Lemon and lime juices mixed with additional vinegar and/or spices can enhance the flavor of hot peppers but will also lessen the amount of what is producing the heat, the hot pepper itself.

Hot pepper SHU

The peppers you are using in your sauce will give a fairly accurate indication of the heat level of your sauce. However, the SHU listing can often times give a range of the heat level. So, no matter what you think the SHU of a peppers is, it probably will not be the same in your sauce. Download the Recipe Template or the Hot Sauce Recipe Worksheet for some common types of hot peppers along with their SHU rating.

Also mixing peppers does not multiple the SHU of your sauce. For example: a jalapeno could be 10,000 SHU and a serrano could be 15,000. Mixing them together does not produce 25,000 SHU. However, adding or mixing a hotter or milder pepper will certainly alter the recipes heat level as well.

Here are the three methods of testing a hot sauce for the level of heat

1. TASTE IT!

If you have not had your hot sauce tested for the SHU you can estimate the level of heat by eating it. Tasting your sauce can give you an idea of how hot it is especially if you consume a lot of sauce. It would be best to have others test it as well but make sure they are not oblivious to different levels of heat.

Eating a hot sauce will give YOU an accurate reaction to the level of heat and allow you to compare it to other sauces. There isn’t a unit of measurement that can be put to a hot sauce after eating it other than the “that’s hotter than hell” scale or “that’s hotter than The Last Dab”. However, if you are an avid consumer of hot sauce that could be a good indication of the level of heat but could be difficult labeling a SHU. I notice the difference between two peppers that may be relatively close in SHU: the jalapeno and serrano.

I can tell the heat difference between the mild peppers I often use in my sauces but how do you put a number to them? New Mexico State University states this is a simple cost-effective way of measuring heat but only gives an approximation for a hot sauce. So if it burns your tongue and lips you are probably safe labeling it a “hot sauce”.

This type of testing is what originated the Scoville scale. A gentleman by the name of Wilbur Scoville diluted hot peppers with an alcohol extract until the heat could not be felt on the human taste buds anymore. Although this scale is used to rank hot sauces, there are more accurate scientific methods.

2. HIGH PERFORMANCE LIQUID CHROMATOGRAPHY

HPLC or High Performance Liquid Chromatography or High Pressure Liquid Chromatography is a very scientific and the most accurate method of measuring the heat of hot sauce which requires high tech scientific equipment in a laboratory. This can be very expensive equipment and could involve scientific experience or a scientific background and you will not find this equipment on Amazon.

High Performance Liquid Chromatography is typically done in a laboratory setting under strict guidelines and processes. The laboratories request that samples be sent to them per their own procedures and could take several weeks before you get results.

Where do I take my hot sauce to be tested for the level of heat?

There are many laboratories that you can send your hot sauce to that will provide an accurate reading of the SHU of your sauce. I have listed several below but find the one that you are most comfortable with. This could either mean it is the least expensive, it is the quickest or the most reliable.

Scoville testing labs

This equipment is usually found in laboratories specially set up for testing food and food related substances. There are also labs that specialize in the specifics of testing hot sauce for heat. These labs can tell you much more about your sauce than the level of heat such as nutritional information and pH level.

Many manufacturers of hot sauce send their sauce to Scoville testing labs. The laboratory will charge a fee for the testing service, but it is usually under $100 per sample if you send multiple samples. If you are having 40 or 50 samples tested regularly than purchasing the Scoville Meter (see below) is a no brainer.

Southwest Bio Labs

Southwest Bio Labs is located in New Mexico, USA. (go figure, this is where a large portion of hot peppers are grown). You don’t get your sample back but you do receive a PDF report. This is a well-known institute to have your hot sauce tested.

Barrow – Agee Laboratories

Barrow-Agee Labortories LLC is located in Tennessee, USA. They will perform the Scoville testing by receiving your packed samples. Fill out the form on the contacts page. Like many laboratory settings your hot sauce can also be tested for other food related tests as well.

Advanced Laboratories Inc

Advanced Laboratories Inc offers HPLC testing as well as other services such as nutrition, carbohydrates and calories. Costs for service are just under $150.00. Advanced Laboratories has two locations in North Carolina and Utah, USA.

If you will be making and testing your hot sauce for years to come specially to know the level of heat than sending it to a laboratory may become expensive and time consuming. You can use the method above by tasting it or you can do your own testing in your own kitchen with a Scoville meter.

3. SCOVILLE METER

The Scoville meter by Chillipot is available at zpchiligroup.com and was developed by the University of Oxford. This small handheld meter is relatively new to the market but is a simple way of testing the SHU of your sauce with sending it to a laboratory.

This meter is the first of its kind that uses an app and comes with testing strips

ZPChilligroup

The ZPChilligroup (makers of the Scoville Meter by Chillipot) offer testing services as well similar to what a laboratory does. Often advertised as the fasted way to test a hot sauce for heat. Although this equipment may be expensive (for my budget) you have to love the convenience of testing a new sauce.

If you are going to specialize in a hot sauce that has a high level of heat than investing in this equipment is crucial. If you are going to market your sauce based on a high heat level and know you will be experimenting with different levels of heat than a Scoville Meter will be necessary.

Whether you feel comfortable with knowing what the heat level of your sauce is or not it is always a good idea to test for all available nutritional services. If you are making a sauce specifically to boast the level of heat, then you will certainly want Scoville testing performed.

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