The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers—or other spicy foods, as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. Capsaicin is one of many related active components found in chili peppers, collectively called capsaicinoids. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.
In modern times, high-performance liquid chromatography is used to determine the pungency. The older method is a subjective measurement dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and so is not a precise or accurate method to measure capsaicinoid concentration.
Scoville organoleptic test
In the Scoville organoleptic test, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsaicinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Decreasing concentrations of the extracted capsaicinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 SHU.
A weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision due to human subjectivity, depending on the taster's palate and their number of mouth heat receptors, which varies greatly among people. Another weakness is sensory fatigue; the palate is quickly desensitized to capsaicinoids after tasting a few samples within a short time period. Results vary widely (up to ± 50%) between laboratories.
ASTA pungency units
Since the 1980s, spice heat has been more precisely measured by a method that uses high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This method measures the concentration of heat-producing chemicals. The measurements uses a mathematical formula that weights them according to their relative capacity to produce perceived heat (pungency). This method yields results, not in Scoville units, but in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. ASTA pungency units are then multiplied by 15 in order to be reported as Scoville units, as according to the published method, a measurement of one part capsaicin per million corresponds to about 15 Scoville units. Scoville units are a measure for capsaicin content per unit of dry mass.
Since Scoville ratings are defined per unit of dry mass, comparison of ratings between products having different water content can be misleading. For example, typical fresh chili peppers have a water content around 90%, whereas Tabasco sauce has a water content of 95%. For law-enforcement-grade pepper spray, values from 500,000 up to 1 million SHU have been mentioned, but the actual strength of the spray depends on the dilution, which could vary by a factor of 10.
The chilis with the highest rating on the Scoville scale exceed one million Scoville units, and include specimens of naga jolokia or bhut jolokia and its cultivar, the "ghost chili", which does not have official cultivar status. Its Bangladeshi variety is the Naga Morich, also known as Dorset Naga, which came in at 1,598,227 SHUs, one of the hottest heat levels ever recorded for a chili. As of 2017, the Dragon's Breath (chili pepper) is the highest rated pepper on record.
Numerical results for any specimen vary depending on its cultivation conditions and the uncertainty of the laboratory methods used to assess the capsaicinoid content. Pungency values for any pepper are variable, owing to expected variation within a species—easily by a factor of 10 or more—depending on seed lineage, climate (humidity is a big factor for the Bhut Jolokia; the Dorset Naga and the original Naga have quite different ratings), and even soil (this is especially true of habaneros). The inaccuracies described in the measurement methods above also contribute to the imprecision of these values.
|Scoville heat units||Chemical|
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Interlab variation [for the original Scoville scale] could be as high as +/−50%. However, labs that run these procedures could generate reasonably repeatable results.
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- USDA nutrient database for Peppers, jalapeño, raw (92% water content); Peppers, hot chile, red, raw (88% water content); Red Tabasco sauce (95%)
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Most law enforcement sprays have a pungency of 500,000 to 2 million SHU. One brand has sprays with 5.3 million SHU.
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Sabre Red = 10% OC @ 2,000,000 Scoville Heat Units. Thus, 90% of the formulation dilutes the 2,000,000 SHUs creating a Scoville Content of 200,000.
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...the Red Savina Habanero whose Scoville rating is around 555,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), the 'Naga Jolokia' possesses 855,000 SHU.
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...'Red Savina' habanero...came in at a whopping 577,000 Scoville Heat Units.
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Reported pungencies for pepper varieties (in Scoville units) are: Habanero (H),100,000–300,000; Thai green (T), 50,000–100,000; wax (W), 5,000–10,000; and Poblano verde (P), 1,000–1,500 (ref. 23).
- Lillywhite, Jay M.; Simonsen, Jennifer E.; Uchanski, Mark E. (2013). "Spicy Pepper Consumption and Preferences in the United States". HortTechnology. 23 (6): 868–876.
Any pepper type with ≥ 1 SHU could be considered spicy. However, for this study, paprika (0–300 SHU), New Mexico long green or red chile (300–500 SHU), and poblano/ancho (≈1369 SHU) types were included as mild spicy peppers (Table 1).
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...a bell pepper has 0 Scoville Heat Units and a rating of 0.
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Scoville Heat Units (SHU), Referring pepper varieties...0, Sweet Bell