Most chiliheads have heard of the Scoville scale, but not many know how it actually works. You may have heard that the Scoville unit refers to the amount of glasses of water needed to dilute the heat-producing chemicals past the point of human detection, but this description is imprecise.
The Scoville scale was invented by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The quantities of the scale are calculated as such:
- First, a panel of five trained chili pepper experts, or as I like to call them, spiceliers, are chosen.
- A known mass of the spicy substance, be it chemical, pepper, or other pungent substance such as ginger, is placed in each of five vials.
- First, the substance is diluted with one hundred times as much of a water and alcohol mixture as the mass of the substance. This is easy using the metric system because for every 1 gram of substance, there should be 100 mL of the diluted alcohol solution. Alcohol is used because capsaicin, the spicy chemical in peppers, is soluble in alcohol.
- The panel tastes the mixture. If they can taste spice, another 100 mL of water is added.
- This process continues until 3 out of 5 spice experts can no longer taste the spice.
Here are some examples of note when it comes to the Scoville scale:
- The Jalapeno ranges from 1,000 to 20,000 Scoville Units
- The Habanero ranges from 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Units
- The Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper yet, averages 1,570,000 Scoville Units
As technology progresses, paper chromatography tests are slowly replacing the Scoville scale, but it’s always helpful to know just how many thousands of glasses of water you need to cure that burn.
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