The Scoville scale is a classification system measuring the amount of concentrated capsaicin in a hot pepper and is also used to determine the heat level of hot sauce. The scale has been used for over a hundred years although there have been additions due to significant increases in the amount of heat in hot peppers and hot sauces.
Capsaicin is responsible for heat in a hot pepper
Capsaicin is the chemical component in a hot pepper that is responsible for the heat. It is a tasteless and odorless element but can be measured within the pepper itself. Tasting hot peppers is a fairly accurate method of testing the heat and was how the Scoville scale developed originally. However, not everyone feels the same sensation from a hot pepper because some people can tolerate it more than others.
Wilbur Scoville invented the Scoville method by slowly diluting a pepper extract in precise intervals until the heat was gone. The original scale was based on tasting hot sauce, but contemporary methods used advanced laboratory testing. As new pepper varieties were being added, tasting no longer became accurate due to the exhausting efforts of tasting sauces repeatedly. This eventually exhausted the taste buds and could not produce as accurate results.
Scoville Heat Units
The “units” in the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) are sugar water. If a pepper has a SHU of 5,000, it takes 5,000 cups of water to dilute the heat completely. Currently, the scale ranges for peppers is from 0 to 2,200,000, with 15,000,000 being pure capsaicin. Starting at the bottom of the scale are bell peppers of any color. Although they are often ranked between 0 and 100, a bell pepper does not have any level of heat to it. Even people most intolerant of spice would agree.
The SHU has become an immediately recognizable number indicating the heat level of a hot pepper or hot sauce. This will attract the attention of the consumer. Some consumers crave a hotter sauce than the last one they ate.
Is the Scoville scale for hot peppers or hot sauce?
The Scoville scale is used to measure the spiciness of hot peppers and is also used for hot sauce as an indication of heat. Hot peppers may be diluted in a hot sauce and their SHU may be altered. Although the scale was first used to indicate the pungency of a hot pepper, manufacturers of hot sauce use it on their products as an indication of heat level to market their products. This is a good method to communicate to consumers the heat level of a hot sauce. The SHU of a hot sauce may not always equal the same SHU of the pepper in which it is made of.
Why is there a variance between the SHU of a hot pepper?
Many factors determine the heat level of a pepper to include the growing conditions, the harvest time, and the strain. The average consumer may not notice this variance but the connoisseur who eats hot peppers every day certainly would. This does not necessarily mean that the Scoville scale is inaccurate.
How accurate is the Scoville scale?
Generally speaking, the Scoville scale will usually display a variable in the SHU of a hot pepper. This is because there can be a lot of factors that can determine the heat level of a pepper. Laboratory testing the amount of capsaicin in a hot sauce will be much more accurate. Laboratory equipment undergoes calibration for testing of a pepper or a hot sauce, but the sauce recipe will remain more consistent, or at least it should.
Does the Scoville scale change?
The scale rating system does not change but new peppers are being cultivated which raises the level of capsaicin. Different sources that provide the Scoville scale may include slightly different information as well, but it does not necessarily mean the information is inaccurate.
High-performance liquid chromatography
High-performance liquid chromatography that is done in a laboratory is the most accurate and reliable way to determine the SHU of a hot sauce or hot pepper. This type of testing is used to separate, identify and quantify a substance and is common practice for testing the heat level of a hot sauce. There are new innovations that use small handheld devices for measuring the capsaicin level in a hot sauce.
ChiliPot Scoville Meter
ChiliPot has developed a handheld “Scoville” meter to determine the heat level of a hot sauce. This device works in conjunction with a smartphone to give instant results indicating the heat level of a hot sauce. The handheld meter by ZP Chili Technology Group is currently available here.
The latest innovation in small-scale Scoville testing is the Chilica-Pod. The device is not currently on the market but similar to the ChiliPot also uses a smartphone to display results. This and the ChiliPot are both great accessories to have for hot sauce recipes to determine the SHU and would be much more reliable than stamping a hot sauce label with mild, medium, or hot. Read more on the Chilica-Pod here.
What is hottest pepper on the Scoville scale?
To date, the hottest pepper on the Scoville scale and according to the Guinness Book of World Records is the Carolina Reaper with a rating of 2.2 million SHU. The Carolina Reaper has held the record since 2013 and numerous hot sauces use it. Although it holds the official record, the pepper X, developed by the same cultivator, is much hotter.
Pepper X was cultivated by Ed Currie who is also responsible for the Carolina Reaper. Before the recognition of the Carolina Reaper as the world’s hottest pepper, the Dragons Breath held the record for a short time.
The pepper X is used in the hot sauce The Last Dab and has a Scoville rating of 3.18 million SHU. It takes years to genetically stabilize a pepper which is why it has not yet been established as the hottest pepper in the world.
Download this FREE infographic here ranking the 25 most popular peppers used in hot sauce. These are the hot peppers used in some of the most popular and top selling hot sauces on the market.
SHU of popular hot sauces
These are the most popular hot sauces on Amazon right now listed by their Scoville Heat Unit rating. There is a huge variance in the level of heat in each of these sauces and some of them have a range within the sauce brand. Two of the more popular selling sauces, Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp and Fly By Jing Sichuan Chili Crisp don’t have a Scoville rating.