Scoville scale

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A display of hot peppers and the Scoville scale at a supermarket in Houston, Texas

The Scoville scale is the measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU),[1] a function of capsaicin concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.[2]

The Scoville scale is an empirical measurement dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and so is not a precise or accurate method to measure capsaicinoid concentration, however, capsaicin concentration can very roughly be estimated as ~18µg/SHU.

Scoville organoleptic test[edit]

In Scoville's method, a measured amount of alcohol extract of the capsaicin oil of the dried pepper is produced, after which a solution of sugar and water is added incrementally until the "heat" is just barely detectable by a panel of (usually five) tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale. Thus, a sweet pepper or a bell pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, has a Scoville rating of zero, meaning no heat detectable.[3]

The greatest weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity. Tasters are given only one sample per session. Results vary widely, up to 50%, between laboratories.[4]

High-performance liquid chromatography[edit]

Naga Jolokia (bhut jolokia, naga morich) is rated at over one million Scoville units. It is primarily found in Northeast Indian states of Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur. It is also found in Bangladesh.
The Red Savina pepper, one of the hottest chilis, is rated at around 250,000 Scoville units.[5]

Spice heat is usually measured by a method that uses high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This identifies and measures the concentration of heat-producing chemicals. The measurements are used in a mathematical formula that weighs them according to their relative capacity to produce a sensation of heat. This method yields results, not in Scoville units, but in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. A measurement of one part capsaicin per million corresponds to about 15 Scoville units, and the published method says that ASTA pungency units can be multiplied by 15 and reported as Scoville units.

Scoville units are a measure for capsaicin content per unit of dry mass.[6][7][8] This conversion is approximate, and spice experts Donna R. Tainter and Anthony T. Grenis say that there is consensus that it gives results about 20–40% lower than the actual Scoville method would have given.

List of Scoville ratings[edit]

Scoville ratings of chemicals[edit]

Scoville heat unitsExamples
8,600,000Homocapsaicin, homodihydrocapsaicin

Scoville ratings of peppers[edit]

Scoville heat unitsExamples
1,500,000–2,200,000Trinidad Moruga Scorpion,[9] Carolina Reaper[10]
855,000–1,463,700Naga Viper pepper,[11] Infinity Chilli,[12] Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper),[13][14] Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper,[15] Bedfordshire Super Naga[16]
350,000–580,000Red Savina habanero[17]
100,000–350,000Habanero chili,[18] Scotch bonnet pepper,[18] Datil pepper, Rocoto, Madame Jeanette, Peruvian White Habanero,[19] Jamaican hot pepper,[20] Fatalii[21]
50,000–100,000Byadgi chilli, Bird's eye chili,[22] Malagueta pepper,[22] Chiltepin pepper, Piri piri, Pequin pepper,[22] Siling Labuyo
30,000–50,000Guntur chilli, Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper,[18] Tabasco pepper, Capsicum chinense
10,000–23,000Serrano pepper, Peter pepper, Chile de árbol, Aleppo pepper
3,500–8,000Espelette pepper, Jalapeño pepper, Chipotle,[18][23] Guajillo pepper, Hungarian wax pepper, Fresno pepper
1,000–2,500Anaheim pepper,[24] Poblano pepper, Rocotillo pepper, Peppadew, Pasilla pepper, Gochujang
100–900Pimento, Peperoncini, Banana pepper, Cubanelle
No significant heatBell pepper, Aji dulce


  1. ^ Peter, KV, ed. (2001), Handbook of Herbs and Spices 1, CRC Press, p. 120, ISBN 0-8493-1217-5 .
  2. ^ The Journal of the American Pharmacists Association 1, 1912: 453–4 .
  3. ^ Bosland, Paul W.; Walker, Stephanie J. (February 2010). "Measuring Chile Pepper Heat". New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service, Guide H-237. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ Tainter, Donna R.; Anthony T. Grenis (2001). Spices and Seasonings. Wiley-IEEE. p. 30. ISBN 0-471-35575-5. "Interlab variation [for the original Scoville scale] could be as high as +/−50%. However, labs that run these procedures could generate reasonably repeatable results." 
  5. ^ DeWitt, Dave; Bosland, Paul W. (2009). The Complete Chile Pepper Book. ISBN 978-0-88192-920-1. 
  6. ^ M.D. Collins et al., "Improved Method for Quantifying Capsaicinoids in Capsicum Using High-performance Liquid Chromatography". HortScience 30 137–139 (1995).
  7. ^ C.O. Nwokem et al., Determination of Capsaicin Content and Pungency Level of Five Different Peppers Grown in Nigeria. New York Science Journal 2010;3(9)
  8. ^ Z.A. Al Othman et al., Determination of Capsaicin and Dihydrocapsaicin in Capsicum Fruit Samples using High Performance Liquid Chromatography. Molecules 2011, 16, 8919–8929
  9. ^ "Chile experts identify Trinidad Moruga Scorpion as world's hottest". The Daily Telegraph (UK). 2012-02-16. 
  10. ^ "World's hottest pepper hits 2.2 million Scoville heat units". Los Angeles Times. December 26, 2013. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  11. ^ Dykes, Brett Michael (3 December 2010). "World’s hottest pepper is ‘hot enough to strip paint’". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  12. ^ "Grantham's Infinity chilli named hottest in world". BBC. 2011-02-18. 
  13. ^ Shaline L. Lopez (2007). "NMSU is home to the world's hottest chile pepper". Archived from the original on 2007-02-19. Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  14. ^ "World's hottest chili pepper a mouthful for prof". CNN. AP. 23 February 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-03-22. 
  15. ^ Matthew Da Silva, "Aussies grow world's hottest chilli", Australian Geographic, 12 April 2011
  16. ^ "UK's hottest commercially grown chilli pepper goes on sale". 
  17. ^ "World's hottest chile pepper discovered". American Society for Horticultural Science. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  18. ^ a b c d "Chile Pepper Heat Scoville Scale". Retrieved 2006-09-25. 
  19. ^ "Habanero White". Chile man. Retrieved 2011-09-21. 
  20. ^ "The Scoville Scale". 
  21. ^ Scoville Food Institute, Periodic Table of Scoville Units.
  22. ^ a b c "Scoville Scale Chart for Hot Sauce and Hot Peppers". Scott Roberts. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  23. ^ "Scoville hot sauce heat scale". 
  24. ^ "Chile Cultivars of NMSU" (PDF). Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. 2008. Retrieved 2013-08-09.