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Food

A Guide to the Scoville Scale: How Spicy Peppers Are Ranked

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

If you look on the back of a bottle of hot sauce, you may find its spiciness measured in Scoville Heat Units. Here's a quick guide to the Scoville scale, its history, and how it ranks a variety of hot peppers.

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What Is the Scoville Scale?

The Scoville scale is a tool for measuring the spiciness or pungency of hot peppers. The scale measures the amount of capsaicin (the chemical compound that causes spicy heat) in a pepper and assigns it a number rating in Scoville Heat Units (SHUs).

The Origins of the Scoville Scale

American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville invented the Scoville scale in 1912. Scoville created the scale by way of his Scoville Organoleptic Test, which he used to measure a pepper's heat level. When conducting his test, Scoville mixed an alcohol-based extract of capsaicin oil from a pepper into a solution of sugar water and placed the solution onto the tongues of taste testers. Little by little, he diluted the solution with more water until his taste testers told him that it no longer tasted hot.

Scoville then assigned a number rating to that pepper based on how many times he had to dilute the solution to eliminate the heat. Jalapeño peppers, for instance, have a Scoville rating of 10,000, which means a jalapeño solution would have to be diluted 10,000 times before the heat was neutralized.

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Modern Use of the Scoville Scale

Today, in order to obtain more accurate results, scientists use a technique called High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to determine the exact concentration of capsaicin in a pepper.
HPLC technique measures the pungency of a pepper in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) Pungency Units. This number can be plugged into a formula that converts it to Scoville Units. Even though the process has changed since Wilbur Scoville's time, we continue to use his Scoville scale to measure the heat of peppers.

24 Types of Peppers Ranked on the Scoville Scale

The Scoville scale provides a way to compare the world’s hottest peppers with everyday varieties, measuring their pungency in Scoville Heat Units.

  1. Pure capsaicin: 16,000,000 SHU
  2. Carolina Reaper: 2,200,000 SHU
  3. Trinidad Moruga Scorpion: 2,009,231 SHU
  4. Trinidad Scorpion Butch T: 1,463,700 SHU
  5. Naga Viper: 1,382,118 SHU
  6. Bhut jolokia (ghost pepper): 1,041,427 SHU
  7. Red Savina habanero: 580,000 SHU
  8. Scotch Bonnet: 350,000 SHU
  9. Jamaican Hot: 350,000 SHU
  10. Habanero: 350,000 SHU
  11. Devil's Tongue: 300,000 SHU
  12. Bird's eye chili: 225,000 SHU
  13. Carolina Cayenne: 125,000 SHU
  14. Tabasco: 50,000 SHU
  15. Santaka: 50,000 SHU
  16. Chile de árbol: 30,000 SHU
  17. Serrano: 23,000 SHU
  18. Jalapeño: 10,000 SHU
  19. Chipotle: 8,000 SHU
  20. Guajillo: 8,000 SHU
  21. Anaheim: 2,500 SHU
  22. Poblano: 2,000 SHU
  23. Pepperoncini: 900 SHU
  24. Bell: 0 SHU

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