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Health & Wellness

What is a Scoville Unit?

Biting into a bell pepper can be sweet and refreshing, yet biting into a ghost pepper is a whole different story! If you’re not too afraid of spice, a bite of a jalapeño can be a nice kick without being too overwhelming to the taste buds. A bell pepper is rated as 0 Scoville heat units, while a ghost pepper is rated at a whopping 1 million Scoville heat units! What does this mean, exactly?



Scoville Unit What is the Scoville Scale?


The Scoville scale was invented in 1912 by Wilbur L. Scoville, an American pharmacist who developed the Scoville Organoleptic Test. He was in search of the perfect pepper to use in a heat-producing ointment, and needed to be able to measure the amount of capsaicin in peppers. Capsaicin is the chemical compound in peppers that gives them their spicy kick, and most capsaicin is found in the seeds and ribs of a pepper.



What are Scoville Heat Units (SHU)?


Scoville heat units are a measurement of how many times capsaicin needs to be diluted in sugar-water until the taste buds no longer acknowledge the spice. The lower the Scoville rating (such as 0 for bell peppers), the lower the amount of heat and spice. The higher the Scoville rating (such as one million for ghost peppers), the more potent the kick!



How are Scoville Heat Units measured? Scoville Unit


In order to determine where a particular pepper falls on the Scoville Scale, peppers are first dried. An alcohol extract of capsaicin oil is then taken from the dried peppers and mixed with sugar-water until human taste testers can no longer taste any heat or spice. The SHU is then assigned to the pepper based on the dilution required to no longer taste any spice. A jalapeño pepper is rated between 2,500 and 5,000 SHU. This means that it needs to be diluted between 2,500 and 5,000 times before taste testers no longer notice its heat!



Is the scale accurate?


Because the scale uses human tasters, it is somewhat subjective and not always 100% accurate. While you may be comfortable eating a handful of Serrano peppers, your uncle may cringe at the first glance of a jalapeño. Differences in growing conditions such as climate and soil can also affect the final ‘spiciness’ of a pepper. 1



Scoville Unit Do we still use the Scoville scale today?


Chefs and foodies alike still use Scoville units, but a new test called High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) can accurately measure the amount of capsaicin in a pepper without the need of human tasters. The HPLC method dries and grounds and then combines it with a solvent. A detector then identifies what compounds - and exactly how much of each compound - are present. A graph, known as a chromatogram, then shows the results. The higher the amount of capsaicinoids, the hotter the pepper! Scoville units also measure the results of this test in honor of Wilbur L. Scoville. 2



Where do most peppers fall on the Scoville Scale?



  • 0 SHU: Bell pepper

  • 2,500 - 5,000 SHU: Jalapeno pepper

  • 5,000 - 10,000 SHU: Chipotle pepper

  • 6,000 - 23,000 SHU: Serrano pepper

  • 30,000 - 50,000 SHU: Cayenne pepper

  • 100,000 - 350,000 SHU: Habanero pepper

  • 1 million SHU: Ghost pepper

  • 2.2 million SHU: Carolina reaper pepper


PhotoCredits: GurcharanSingh/shutterstock.com, JaboticabaFotos/shutterstock.com, Lisyl/shutterstock.com, barmalini/shutterstock.com

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