Hot Pepper Scoville Scale

The availability of different types of peppers opens up a wide world of cooking possibilities! But how do you know which ones to pick for your dishes? Some are extremely spicy and might overpower your recipe, while some are mild and might not have the kick of heat you are looking for. Understanding the Scoville scale helps you choose the right pepper and label extra-spicy menu items. It's also important to understand heat levels if you are bottling your own hot sauces or barbecue sauces.

Click below to see the Scoville hot pepper scale:

Pepper Scoville Chart

What Is the Scoville Scale?

The Scoville scale is a method of measuring the hotness or spiciness of peppers and pepper products like hot sauce. Scoville Heat Units, called SHU, represent the level of heat you can expect from eating a hot pepper. Peppers that fall low on the scale are less spicy, and peppers that rank high on the scale produce a stronger burning sensation on the mouth and skin.

Who Invented the Scoville Scale?

Various hot peppers viewed from the top on a wooden background.

The Scoville scale was invented by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Surprisingly, Scoville wasn't a chef, he was a pharmacist. He created the famous heat scale to improve the capsaicin dosage in a pain-killing cream. Capsaicin is a heat-producing compound, but it also creates an analgesic or numbing effect on the skin. Scoville's test measured the amount of capsaicin in different peppers so he could find the perfect ratio for the medical cream.

What Is Capsaicin?

Capsaicin (pronounced cap-say-sin) is the chemical compound found in peppers that causes a burning sensation when it makes contact with skin, eyes, or mucous membranes. This spicy oil can even stick to your hands when you handle hot peppers without gloves.

What Makes Peppers Hot?

Spicy peppers are hot because they contain capsaicin. The white ribs inside the pepper are the main source of capsaicin, not the seeds, contrary to popular belief. But the seeds can become coated with capsaicin, so if you want to lower the heat level of a pepper, remove them along with the pith. Make sure to follow up any hot pepper prep with proper handwashing, because capsaicin oil remains on your hands and can be transferred to your eyes or face.

Do All Peppers Have Capsaicin?

No, not all peppers contain capsaicin. The bell pepper has no capsaicin, so it ranks at zero on the Scoville pepper scale.

What Does the Scoville Scale Measure?

The Scoville scale measures Scoville heat units, which represent the amount of sugar-water it takes to completely dilute the spiciness of the pepper. Scoville's original test was called the Scoville Organoleptic Test, and it employed a panel of trained taste-testers to confirm how much water was needed to neutralize the heat.

How To Measure Scoville

To measure Scoville units using the original Organoleptic Test, capsaicin oil is first extracted from a dried pepper. Samples of the extract are given to five taste-testers, who then determine how many times the oil must be diluted to weaken the pungency. Each dilution is represented by a Scoville Heat Unit (SHU).

Today, the test used to measure capsaicin is called high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), and it eliminates the need for taste-testers. This test is more accurate but it's expensive to perform.

List of Peppers by Heat

Carolina reaper peppers in wooden bowl.

New chile peppers are cultivated every year, but the hottest known pepper in the world is the Carolina Reaper. The bell pepper ranks at the bottom of the hotness scale with zero heat units. Check out everything in between on this list of common peppers and their Scoville heat units:

  • Carolina Reaper: 1,400,000 - 2,200,000 SHU
  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion: 1,500,000 - 2,000,000 SHU
  • Ghost Pepper: 1,000,000 - 1,500,000 SHU
  • Red Savina Habanero Pepper: 500,000 - 750,000 SHU
  • Habanero Pepper: 350,000 - 500,000 SHU
  • Scotch Bonnet Pepper: 200,000 - 350,000 SHU
  • Birds Eye Chili: 50,000 - 100,000 SHU
  • Cayenne Pepper: 30,000 - 50,000 SHU
  • Serrano Pepper: 10,000 - 23,000 SHU
  • Jalapeno Pepper: 2,500 - 8,000 SHUs
  • Poblano Pepper: 1,000 - 1,500 SHU
  • Anaheim Pepper: 500 - 2,500 SHU
  • Pepperoncini Pepper: 100 - 500 SHU
  • Bell Pepper: 0 SHU

How Many Scoville Units Are in a Jalapeno?

Green jalapeno pepper on a wooden plate.

On the Scoville pepper scale, jalapenos range from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. They're considered spicy but not too hot for most people. Since many are familiar with the heat level of jalapenos, it makes them useful when comparing the spiciness of other peppers and chiles.

If you want to add some spice to a dish by trying out a new pepper, check out some of these alternatives to the jalapeno:

Pequin Pepper Scoville

Pequin peppers are spicy peppers that range from 30,000 to 60,000 SHU on the Scoville heat scale. This makes them about 4-6 times spicier than a jalapeno.

Arbol Chile Scoville

The Arbol chile ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 SHU on the Scoville heat unit scale. This spicy chile is about 2-3 times hotter than a jalapeno.

Fresno Peppers Scoville

Fresno peppers range from 2,500 to 10,000 SHU on the Scoville heat scale. They are slightly hotter than jalapenos.

Chipotle Pepper Scoville

Chipotle peppers range from 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale, making them just as hot as jalapenos. That shouldn't be surprising because chipotles are jalapenos that have been dried and smoked.

Cherry Pepper Scoville

Cherry peppers, or cherry bomb peppers, range from 2,500 to 5,000 SHU on the Scoville pepper scale. Their hotness level is similar to a jalapeno.

Ancho Chile Scoville

Ancho chiles range from 1,000 to 2,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, making them milder than a jalapeno pepper.

Peppadew Peppers Scoville

Peppadew peppers are mild peppers that range from 500 to 1,500 SHU on the Scoville scale. They are milder than jalapeno peppers and about the same as a poblano pepper.

Cubanelle Peppers Scoville

Cubanelle peppers range from 100 to 1,000 SHU on the Scoville heat scale. They are milder than a jalapeno.

Shishito Peppers Scoville

Shishito peppers range from 50 to 200 SHU on the Scoville heat scale, making them much milder than a jalapeno. The unique thing about shishitos is that occasionally one pepper in the bunch will be spicier than the others.

The Scoville scale remains the most popular method of measuring spiciness. It provides a good frame of reference when comparing hot foods like peppers or hot sauce. You can also use the Scoville scale to identify the spiciest foods on your menu for heat-loving customers.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Michale LeRoy
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