14 Nov How hot? The Scoville Scale explained
You might crunch into a scotch bonnet chilli or spice up your brisket with hot sauce for a little extra kick, but do you know how hot each item is likely to be? Some of us want milder hot, not blow your head off hot, so a scale of heat would be helpful.
Lots of us will recognise that there is a way to measure heat and spiciness, and that a scale already exists, but do you know how it came about?
In 1912, a gentleman called Wilbur Lincoln Scoville, who was an American pharmacist, invented the Scoville Organoleptic Test while working for a pharmaceutical company.
(FYI: organoleptic properties are the things we experience through taste, touch, sight and smell – such as aspects of food, water or other substances like heat.)
This scale intended to measure the levels of capsaicin in a pepper – which is the substance that makes anything spicy. The more capsaicin in the pepper, the more it packs a punch.
Capsaicin is mostly concentrated in the white placental tissue inside a chilli, which is where the seeds are attached – not the seeds themselves as most commonly thought. It is only that the seeds normally come into contact with this white tissue and then these rub onto the surrounding chilli flesh.
Scoville recognised that there was no precise way to measure the levels of capsaicin in his laboratory and therefore decided that the tongue was far more sensitive to the substance. He prepared a variety of peppers by soaking them in alcohol overnight, which extracted the substance from the chilli. This was then added to sweetened water in exact amounts before being applied to his tongue. The more extract required to detect heat on the tongue determines its unit on the scale.
The levels of capsaicin within a pepper were therefore measured in ‘Scoville Units’, which honours the Scoville scale. However, modern day heat testing is much more sophisticated, using a High Pressure Liquid Chromatograph (HPLC). The units produced are known as ASTA units however; the Scoville scale was so well established that the name remains as a type of legacy.
If you would like to see a great example of a Scoville Scale you can click here.
Hot heads will be excited to hear that the Angus & Oink kitchen has been cooking up some new super hot sauce prototypes for next year. These little devils contain the Trinidad Scorpion pepper at >2,000,000 SKU and the Carolina Reaper at >2,200,000 SKU – the hottest pepper in the world. Stay tuned!
So next time something is a bit too hot to handle, think about the pain Mr Scoville went through in his lab as he tried out all the different peppers!