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The Chili Legend, Wilbur Scoville

In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a chemist working for the Park Davis pharmaceutical company, developed a method to measure the heat level of a chili pepper. Being the usual humble chemist with no thoughts of going down in history, he named it the "Scoville Organoleptic Test." The Scoville test employed the following highly scientific method: a group of 5 people tasted each variety of chili peppers and then "analyzed" the heat sensation. The results were tabulated and aggregated and if someone said I think this one is hotter than the last one and if enough people in the group nodded in agreement, then it was given another 50,000 Scoville points. Or something like that.

While it was better than nothing, the Scoville Organoleptic Test was clearly just a bit subjective, and it was replaced in 1980 by computerized liquid chromatography. However, perhaps in memory of what was left of poor Wilbur's tongue, the results of these new tests are still coded in Scoville units. The pepper scale ranges from 0 Scoville Units for a standard bell pepper to 5,000 for Jalapenos peppers, to a whopping 200,000 to 300,000 plus for Habaneros peppers.

What is a Scoville Unit?
In the Scoville Organoleptic Test procedure, Wilbur Scoville mixed each variety of chili as a pure ground-up paste with a sugar-water solution. Then a panel of five testers (probably volunteers from the state prison) sipped the mixture, in increasingly diluted concentrations, until Wilbur could no longer detect smoke drifting out from their nostrils. Each chili was rated based on how much it needed to be diluted before no heat could be detected. One part chili "heat" per 1,000,000 drops of water rates equals 1.5 Scoville Units. Simple, huh.

Or here's another way to describe it. To achieve a Scoville rating, three out of five people must taste the heat of a chili pepper in a diluted solution of alcohol and sugar water. The ratio of this dilution is the Scoville Unit. For example, the Chiltepin pepper is usually detected by 60 percent of the testers when it is diluted at a ratio of 1 part to 50,000 parts solution, or 1 to 50,000, giving it a rating of 50,000 to 60,000 Scoville Units. If this has you really confused, now you can understand why no one uses the old Scoville Unit test anymore.

The levels of hotness are measured in multiples of 100 units, from the completely harmless Bell pepper at zero Scoville units to the Habanero pepper at 300,000 Scoville units. The dreaded "Red Savina" Habanero, at 350,000 Scoville units, is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the hottest chili pepper in the world.

Scoville Units for pepper varieties:

350,000 Scoville Units:
Red Savina Habanero

100,000 to 300,000 Scoville Units:

50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Units:
Chiltepin, Thai

30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units:
Pequin, Cayenne, Tabasco

15,000 to 30,000 Scoville Units:
De Arbol, Japones

5,000 to 15,000 Scoville Units:
Serrano, Pasilla de Oaxaco

2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Units:
Jalapeno, Chipotle, Mirasol, Guajillo

1,500 to 2,500 Scoville Units:
New Mexico Pods-hot, Cascabel, Rocotillo, Chihuacle Negro

1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Units:
Ancho, Pasilla, Negro

500 to 1,000 Scoville Units:
Anaheim, New Mexico Pods-mild, Mulato

100 to 500 Scoville Units:

0 Scoville Units:
Bell, Pimento

Chili Pepper Garden Menu:

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