Home » Cooking tips » Scoville Scale: How Hot Are Your Favorite Peppers?

Scoville Scale: How Hot Are Your Favorite Peppers?

In this article, we will explore what the Scoville scale is and how it works. This scale is a measurement system that shows the heat levels of the peppers.

It plays a significant role in comparing the spiciness of chili peppers and spicy foods. For chefs and home cooks, understanding the heat levels of ingredients is crucial. After all, the intensity of heat can render a dish unpalatable.

Black surface with different types of peppers.

What Is The Scoville Scale?

Wilbur Scoville, an American pharmacist, created the Scoville Scale in 1912. He aimed to develop a standardized method for measuring pepper heat.

To better understand the Scoville scale, you must first know about capsaicin.

Capsaicin is a natural compound found in peppers. It is what makes peppers spicy.

The Scoville Scale measures how much capsaicin there is in a pepper.

It follows that the more this compound there is, the more intense the pepper.

The unit of measurement is Scoville Heat Units (SHU). For example, a pepper rating of 5,000 SHUs means you must dilute it 5,000 times before you can no longer detect the heat.

As the Scoville scale solely relies on the capsaicin content to work, it follows that it can only work in foods with this compound.

For this reason, wasabi has no Scoville units because it does not have that compound.

It works for ginger and black pepper because they have related compounds.

Ginger has gingerol, while black peppers have piperine. Gingerol, piperine, and capsaicin are all alkaloids.

The Scoville Scale finds practical application in many ways.

In cooking, it is an invaluable tool to gauge spiciness. It helps chefs and home cooks achieve perfectly balanced dishes.

Hot sauce makers rely on the Scoville Scale to develop and label their products.

This scale also allows them to cater to various heat preferences.

Additionally, the Scoville Scale can help people select peppers based on their desired spice level.

Scoville scale’s use does not stop in the kitchen. Pepper spray makers also use the scale in marketing to show people how intense the sprays are.

How Does It Work

Like most other systems, the Scoville scale has evolved over the years. How it worked back then was different from how it works today.

It is more effective as it is more systematic and scientific this time.

Early Years

Initially, the Scoville scale worked by using human testers. Scoville employed a group of testers who sampled the pepper extracts. These people will taste a solution of sugar water and pepper extracts. They will then say if they still taste the heat.

If they do, Scoville will proceed to add another unit of sugar water. Then the tasting will resume. This cycle continues until the testers say the heat is no longer detectable.

The SHU will then equal how many times Scoville diluted the peppers. This method heavily relies on the perception of taste. Unsurprisingly, it is called The Scoville Organoleptic Test.

However, there are several downsides to this type of testing. First, the sense of taste is highly subjective.

One person might have higher heat tolerance than another. So, one tester may say that there is no more heat, while another will claim that there still is.

Cultural differences also play a big role in this procedure. A person from a region where spicy foods are popular will have a different perception than one who does not.

Lastly, the sensitivity of the human tongue will change after repeated testing. That said, the results of the test were subject to human limitations.

Modern Days

The early years of using the Scoville scale were really helpful. Still, there needed to be a more reliable way to quantify how hot peppers are.

Today, people use the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) technique. HPLC has revolutionized heat measurement by directly quantifying capsaicin content.

HPLC works by combining dried and ground peppers with a solvent. Then, a detector identifies how much capsaicin is in the mix and rates them using ASTA pungency units.

The scientists use a formula to convert the ASTA pungency units to Scoville heat units.

This technique provides precise and objective results as it does not rely on human taste perception. That said, it ensures consistency and accuracy across pepper varieties and batches.

The Role Scoville Scale Plays In The Culinary Industry

Knowing how hot the peppers are before you eat them is important in the food industry. From research to food challenges, here are some ways the Scoville scale is useful.

Recipe Development

Using the Scoville scale, recipe developers can make dishes more enjoyable. They can customize recipes according to the heat tolerance of individuals.

With the help of the scale, they can choose which peppers to use in a particular recipe. This flexibility enables them to cater to different preferences.

Industry Standards and Regulations

The scale also helps in standardizing the labeling of spicy food products. It helps people make informed choices by giving a reference point for understanding heat levels. This standard works in commercial sauces, spices, and other spicy food items.

Food Waste Avoidance

Because of this scale, you won’t purchase something you know you cannot tolerate.

This scale helps you avoid food waste and ultimately gets you the best value for your money.

Pepper Breeding and Innovation

The scale encourages pepper breeders to develop new varieties with higher heat levels.

Its existence led to the creation of unique and popular peppers that pushed the limits of the Scoville Scale.

These peppers include the Carolina Reaper, Pepper X, Dragon’s Breath, and Ghost Peppers.

Contests and Challenges

The Scoville Scale has inspired various hot sauce contests around the world. It also is a useful tool in pepper-eating challenges.

These events often involve consuming extremely spicy sauces or peppers. They are popular among heat enthusiasts.

Participants aim to eat the hottest chili peppers to showcase their heat tolerance.

The Scoville heat units come in multiples of 100. You should also know that no two peppers are alike, even when they are of the same variety.

For this reason, the Scoville rating for each pepper is normally a range and not a fixed number. If you see a fixed number rating, that is probably an average.

Before we delve into the ratings of popular peppers, it is worth mentioning that pure capsaicin measures 16 million SHU.

From this information, you can gauge how hot the following common chili peppers are:

  • Carolina Reaper – 1,400,000 – 2 million SHU
  • Ghost Pepper or Bhut Jolokia – 800,000 – over 1,000,000 SHU
  • Habanero Peppers, Scotch Bonnet Peppers – 100,000 – 350,000 SHU
  • Bird’s Eye Chili Peppers – 50,000 – 100,000 SHU
  • Cayenne Peppers, Tabasco Peppers – 30,000 – 50,000 SHU
  • Chile de Arbol – 15,000 – 30,000 SHU
  • Serrano Peppers – 10,000 – 23,000 SHU
  • Chipotle Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers – 2,500 – 5,000 SHU
  • Poblano Peppers, Ancho Peppers – 1,000 – 2,000 SHU
  • Anaheim Peppers – 500 – 2,500 SHU
  • Bell Pepper – 0 SHU

Scoville Scale of Popular Peppers

Infographic showing Scoville scale with most popular peppers.
Why Is It Called Scoville Scale?

The Scoville scale got its name from the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. He invented this scale back in 1912 to measure the pungency of peppers. Today, the Scoville Organoleptic Test is not longer in use due to its limitations. However, people still use the Scoville Heat Unit rating label in his honor.

What Is The World’s Hottest Pepper?

The Guinness Book of World Records lists the Carolina Reaper as the world’s hottest chili pepper. It boasts an astonishing heat level surpassing 2 million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). Before the Carolina Reaper got this title, the Trinidad scorpion ‘Butch T’ was the world’s hottest.

How Many Scoville Is Tabasco?

It depends. If we’re talking about the Tabasco peppers themselves, they are at 30,000 – 50,000 SHU. However, we’re talking about the Tabasco brand of hot sauces; the flagship Red Pepper Sauce is at 2,500 – 5,000 SHU. This sauce offers a flavorful kick without overwhelming heat. However, Tabasco has a Scorpion Sauce with up to 33,000 SHU.

What Neutralizes Scoville?

Various substances can help neutralize the intense heat measured by the Scoville Scale. Dairy products like milk or yogurt, sugar, and even bread can offer relief. These food items counteract the burning sensation caused by capsaicin.

How Many Scoville Units Is Sriracha?

Sriracha sauce is a type of hot sauce people make using different kinds of mild spicy peppers. Depending on the peppers in the sauce, Sriracha can be anywhere between 1,000 and 2,500 SHU. It is a milder choice than Tabasco Red Pepper Sauce, which ranks 2,500 to 5,000 SHU.

Does Cooking Reduce The Scoville Rating Of Peppers?

It can. Studies show that capsaicin reduction happens when you heat chili peppers. That said, if you want to tame the heat of the hottest peppers, you may opt to grill or roast them before you eat them or use them as ingredients.


The Scoville Scale is a measurement system that provides a standard for people to gauge pepper heat. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) show the number of dilutions for the heat to become undetectable. The scale is valuable for chefs, home cooks, and hot sauce makers. It helps achieve balanced dishes and allows proper labeling of hot sauces.

The scale allows us to confidently navigate chili peppers, hot sauces, and spicy foods. By understanding Scoville ratings, we can choose peppers suited to our preferences. We can also explore different spice levels. Lastly, with its help, we can appreciate peppers’ incredible flavors.

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
pinterest instagram instagram

Get new recipes and tips via email
when you subscribe!

Have a comment? I love hearing from you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.

As seen in:

Eating WellmashededibleWomans WorldTasting TableHomes and Gardens
Back to the Top