The Scoville Index – Heat Wave Warning!

So how does one know what to expect before he bites into that red, green or yellow pepper? Is there a way to anticipate how much water you should have on hand to quell the fire? Presenting the Scoville Heat Index.

This method of evaluating the pungency (hotness) of chili peppers is named after its creator, Wilbur Scoville. This American pharmacist introduced his findings in 1912. While the process he used has been greatly improved over the past 100 years, the basic Scoville Index measurement remains the same. It identifies the quantity of Capsaicin resident in a particular type of pepper. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that directly relates to the effect a pepper will have on the nerve endings in your mouth.

The Scoville Heat Index is a numeric scale gauging how great an affect the pepper will have on your taste buds. Capsaicin in its purest form has a rating of 16,000,000. Bell peppers and sweet peppers do not contain Capsaicin and therefore earn a rating of 0. To give the ratings more meaning, consider that a pepper with a Scoville Heat Index rating of say 200,000 would require a dilution (water) factor of 200,000 to equalize the burning sensation you feel biting into that specific pepper. Scoville’s original testing was somewhat subjective, in that it involved human taste testers as part of the formula. Today’s testing eliminates the human involvement and uses high performance liquid chromatography. This is reported by the American Spice Trade Association in pungency units. However these units are, in many cases, converted to the Scoville Heat Index prior to publication.

Following is a list of some common peppers and their Scoville ratings:

Banana Pepper-100 to 900, Jalapeno-2,500 to 8,000, Cayenne-30,000 to 50,000, Habanero and Scotch Bonnet-100,000 to 350,000 and topping out our list is the Naga Viper Pepper at a whopping 855,000 to 1,463,700. As a point of reference, pepper spray used by law enforcement to control prisoners rates at 1.5 to 2 million.

So you’ve been warned. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the pepper of your choice.

 

 

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