Why You Shouldn’t Use the Scoville Scale For Judging the Heat of a Chile Pepper and Why That Makes Sense

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The Scoville Scale is a way to measure the spiciness of chili peppers. The scale goes from 0 (sweet bell pepper) to 16,000,000 (pure capsaicin). Chileheads have been using the scale for decades, but it is becoming more popular outside of the chilehead community.

The problem with using the Scoville Scale for anything but a reference point is that it is not linear. This means that a difference in heat doesn’t follow a mathematical pattern. For example, from 2 to 3 there is a difference of 1000 units and from 10 to 11 units there is only a difference of 100 units.

Taste is also subjective and varies based on how we perceive it. This means that our sense of taste can vary from moment to moment and day to day.

For these reasons I don’t recommend using the Scoville Scale as a way to determine how hot something tastes.

The Scoville scale is a measure of the spicy heat in a chile pepper. The scale was developed by Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacist and chemist. The scale is measured in multiples of 100 units and the number indicated how much sugar water must be added to 1 ml of extract to bring down the heat to a barely detectable level.

The Scoville scale is used as a relative indicator of how spicy a chile pepper is “compared to other peppers of the same variety.” It was never intended for comparing one pepper with another (ie: bell to jalapeño). You can’t compare one variety to another. A chile’s average rating can be used as an indicator of its relative hotness, but not its spiciness.

When I first started reading about hot peppers I thought that this was obvious, but after spending some time talking with people who were confused about the scale, I realized that it wasn’t. That’s why this blog exists. To help you make sense of the Scoville Scale and how it can be used practically in your life.

The Scoville scale is really a measure of the dilution of a chile pepper extract that must be used to make it just barely perceptible to the human taste bud. This makes sense, since it was originally developed by Wilbur Scoville, a chemist who was trying to create a non-toxic substitute for pepper spray.

So how do you use the scale in a practical way? Judging from the comments I received on an earlier post about this, people feel that units on this scale that are too high are not useful for rating the relative hotness of various chiles.

The problem with using the Scoville scale in this way is that humans have a wide variation in their ability to detect heat. For example, African Americans have been shown to have “twice as many sensory receptors as Caucasians.” This means they can perceive twice as much capsaicin as Caucasians.

This means that if you take two peppers from different parts of the world and had them analyzed for their rating on the Scoville scale, you would get very different results. You’d think one pepper would be hotter than another because it had a higher number on the Scoville scale but it could be just the opposite.

This is why I feel the

The Scoville scale measures the amount of capsaicin (the chemical that gives peppers their heat) in a pepper. The higher the Scoville number, the hotter it is.

The jalapeño pepper has a Scoville number of 2,500 to 8,000. It is spicy, but not really hot. Compare that to the habanero pepper which has a score of 100,000 to 350,000 and you can see why they are used in different applications.

For most recipes that call for a “hot pepper” or “chile pepper”, I recommend using fresh serrano peppers or chipotle peppers instead of jalapeños because they have more flavor.

Fresh serranos are about 5 times hotter than jalapeños but still mild enough to use in salsas, guacamole and other Mexican-style dishes. Chipotles are smoked jalapeños and are about 10 times hotter than regular jalapeños. They are best when used as a condiment or added at the end of your cooking process.*

I have a bone to pick with the Scoville Scale. Specifically, I think it’s misused and I don’t think its misuse is particularly useful.

The Scoville Scale measures the heat in chili peppers. The rating is based on how much capsaicin will dissolve in alcohol. Pure capsaicin has a rating of 16 million Scoville Heat Units and Tabasco sauce clocks in at about 2,500 SHU. However, there are peppers that taste far hotter than Tabasco but don’t measure as hot on the scale. That’s because the scale measures how much pure capsaicin dissolves in alcohol, which isn’t how our mouths perceive heat from chili peppers.



The Scoville scale is the measurement of how much spicy heat a chili pepper has. It was developed by a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The scale measures how many parts of sugar water it takes to dilute a chili pepper extract to the point where it can no longer be tasted.

The hotness or level of spiciness is not just based on the number of Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

The Scoville Scale is a measurement of the amount of capsaicin – the chemical component in peppers that causes their “heat” sensation – in chili peppers. Capsaicin is found in the placental tissue between the inner wall of the pepper’s fruit and seeds. The more capsaicin a pepper has, the hotter it is, and the higher its Scoville rating.

The Scoville Scale operates on a logarithmic scale, meaning each increase of one unit represents a tenfold increase in heat. Pure capsaicin rates at 16 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU); sweet bell peppers rate at 0 SHU; and jalapenos range from 2500 to 5000 SHU.

Tears were shed over this scale back in 1912 when it was invented by Wilbur Scoville, who was attempting to develop a systematic way to measure how spicy different chiles were. In reality, there are many other factors that can affect how much heat you get from a given pepper when you eat it besides just its Scoville rating, including:

1. Variety: Different varieties of chile peppers have different ranges of heat levels – some are significantly less or more spicy than others.

2. Ripeness: As a pepper

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