If you’ve ever wondered just how hot that pepper or hot sauce is, all you need to do is look for the results of the Scoville test. Essentially, the Scoville scale helps to give some context to the spicy heat of a pepper by assigning it a number. Named after pharmacist and test founder Wilbur Scoville, the test determines the Scoville Heat Units, or SHU, of a product. Essentially it’s a test measuring the level of capsaicin in a pepper, and the test’s been around for about a century.
To come up with a number, testers dissolve a dried pepper in alcohol to help extract the heat from the chili pepper. That extract is then diluted in sugar water. Trained testers continuously try out decreasing concentrations of the extract until the majority of them are no longer able to detect the pepper’s heat. Then, the dilution is assigned a heat level based on how many times it had to be diluted to reach that point. Of course, peppers certainly vary greatly, with some of the hottest said to top 2-million Scoville units.
On the lowest end of the scale is the bell pepper, without enough heat to usually even register on the scale at all. The numbers go up considerably, though, with choices like the Habanero and the Jalapeno pepper moving up the scale, and finally topped off by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper and the out-of-this-world Carolina Reaper. While that’s just the peppers, some pepper extracts are capable of reaching nearly mind numbing heights on the Scoville scale, truly packed with a massive amount of heat. While the Scoville test is more subjective than other tests out there, it’s still widely used in measuring a pepper’s heat, and widely known by those most interested in knowing the true heat of a pepper.