Everything spicy food fanatics need to know.  

By Corey Williams
August 14, 2019
invizbk/Getty Images

If you’ve ever read a hot sauce label or watched Hot Ones on YouTube, or if you know anything about spicy foods at all, you’ve probably come across the term “Scoville” before. But what does it mean, exactly—and how is it used? 

What Is the Scoville Scale and What Does It Measure? 

The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spiciness) of peppers and other hot foods. The scale is based on the concentration of capsaicin, an active component of chili peppers that produces a burning sensation when it touches your tongue or skin. 

Related: Cayenne Pepper vs. Chili Powder

Pharmacist Wilbur Scoville created the scale in 1912. In Scoville’s method, capsaicin from a specific pepper was added to increasingly larger amounts of sugar-water until a majority of tasters could no longer detect the heat. 

How much or how little dilution was needed to render the capsaicin tasteless decided the pepper’s number of Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which decided where it falls on the Scoville scale. Though newer and more accurate methods are used to determine these numbers today, the scale itself remains the same. 

What’s the Hottest Pepper on the Scoville Scale? 

The Caroline Reaper is the hottest pepper in the world, according to the scale and Guinness World Records, with about 2.2 million SHU. For reference, pure capsaicin has a Scoville rating of 16 million SHU and U.S. grade pepper spray has about 5.3 million SHU.

Philippe Gerber/Getty Images

So what about peppers you actually eat in your day-to-day life? Here’s how they measure up:

  • Bell: 0 SHU
  • Poblano: 1,000-1,500 SHU
  • Jalapeno: 2,500-8,000 SHU
  • Cayenne: 30,000-50,000 SHU
  • Habanero 100,000-350,000 SHU

Chili Pepper Recipes

Watch: Flamin' Hot Cheetos Jalapeño Poppers

Ready to test your Scoville scale limits? Try one of our favorite spicy recipes that use chili peppers: 

Advertisement