Let’s take a look at the man that gave us the Scoville rating system, and how it relates to some of the more popular chili peppers, and we’ll talk about working with one of our favorite ingredients in the kitchen… the humble chili pepper.
1A bit of history
The Scoville scale is a measure of the hotness of a chili pepper. The scale is named after its creator, chemist Wilbur Scoville, and it was created way back in 1912.
2The heat in chili peppers comes from a group of compounds called capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is the primary heat-producing element present in peppers. The greater the concentration of capsaicin, the hotter the pepper will be.
3The original method called the Scoville Organoleptic Test (try saying that 3 times quickly). The test went something like this: A solution of the pepper extract would be diluted in sugar water until the heat was no longer detectable to a panel of tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale.
4For example, a sweet pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, would have a Scoville rating of zero, indicating no heat was detectable; even if undiluted. The hottest chilies, such as habaneros, have a rating of 300,000 or more, indicating that their extract has to be diluted 300,000-fold before the capsaicin present is undetectable. The dilution ratio was measured in drops. Therefore, it would take 300,000 drops of sugar water, before a drop of habanero extract was no longer detectable.
5You can probably guess the weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test… it relies on human subjectivity. Plus a chilies heat can a can vary from pepper to pepper, based on soil and growing conditions. Therefore, the Scoville scale is simply a guide.
6Where does the chili store its heat?
It's often said that seeds are the source of the heat in chili peppers, but while the seeds are hot, they don't cause the heat. The membrane, called the placenta, stores the heat. The seeds are attached to the membrane, but the heat is transferred to the seeds, not stored in them. To reduce the heat level of a pepper, scrape the inside of the pepper with a spoon to remove the seeds and the membrane.
7Do we taste the heat of a chili?
The mouth's pain receptors, not the taste buds, transmit the heat sensation. A runny nose and watery eyes often follow the immediate wave of fire, and some people perspire profusely. Capsaicin also releases endorphins in the body, causing some people to feel exhilarated Plus the capsaicin triggers thermo-genesis, a fat-burning process.
8Once eaten, how to you tame the heat?
You might reach for a glass of ice water to douse the flames, but don’t. The compounds in peppers are fat soluble, so drinking a glass of water would be like throwing gas on the fire. To counteract the chilies heat, chew on a piece of bread, eat some chocolate, or drink some milk or other dairy products.
9Working with chilies
Many people are sensitive to chilies, and after cutting into them, develop a rash, or their skin itches where it came in contact with the chilies. Many people will wear protective gloves that they use only for the purpose of handling chilies. It goes without saying that after handling chilies you should keep you hands away from your face; especially your eyes.
10Dried versus Fresh
A dried pepper contains more heat than its fresh equivalent because the lack of moisture concentrates the flavors. If you substitute dry peppers for fresh ones, be sure to adjust portions according to taste. It’s to be noted that the longer a chili is allowed to ripen, the hotter it will get
11Roasting a Pepper
To roast peppers, place them on a baking sheet in an oven heated to 375f (190c). Check the peppers every 15 to 20 minutes, and turn them when the top has charred and blistered. Repeat until all sides are charred. Place the peppers in a brown paper bag and close it to allow the steam to loosen the skin. . After 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bag, and peel away the blistered skin.
12Medical uses of Chili Peppers
Lowering blood pressure
Lowering serum cholesterol
Working as an anticoagulant
Relieving stomach pain
Gardeners have been known to use Cayenne powder to deter mammals and insects, and homeowners have used it to repel ants, squirrels and other wildlife. Some people add a dash of cayenne powder to their socks to keep their feet warm… now that’s interesting.
14Here’s a listing of the most common peppers, and their ratings on the Scoville chart:
15Bell Peppers: 0 SHUs
Sweet and slightly sharp but entirely mild tasting, bell peppers don't even rank on the Scoville scale, as they contain no capsaicin, which makes them perfect for folks who prefer their food on the extremely mild side.
16Pepperoncini: 100-500 SHUs
This mild, slightly bitter, yellowish-green pepper, usually served pickled, is often found on antipasto platters and as an accompaniment to Italian sandwiches, in Greek salads and on meze platters.
17Poblano: 1,000-2,000 SHUs
Popular in Mexican cuisine, this wide, deep-green chile is most likely the one you get in your chile relleno. It has a fairly mild and fresh taste. The dried version of the poblano is called an ancho chile, which has a sweeter, almost raisin-like taste and is a common component in mole.
18Jalapeño: 2,500-8,000 SHUs
Originating in Mexico, this ubiquitous but always delightful green chile (red when it ripens) adds its fresh heat to everything, from Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine to Vietnamese báhn mì.
19Chipotle: 3,000-8,000 SHUs
Chipotles start their lives as jalapeño peppers. Once they ripen to a deep red, the chiles are gathered and smoke-dried. Though the dried peppers themselves can be purchased, they're most often sold in adobo, a tangy sauce made with chiles, garlic, vinegar, and spices.
20Serrano: 10,000-23,000 SHUs
Thin-skinned and light green with a bright, tangy bite, serrano chiles are native to Mexico and thus often found in its cuisine. Though they're small, serranos deliver a lot of heat.
21Cayenne: 30,000-50,000 SHUs
Perhaps the most commonly known pepper, thanks to its place in our spice cabinets, this long, tapered pepper is also popular in natural remedies, as it is believed to aid in digestion, circulation and more.
22Tabasco: 30,000-50,000 SHUs
A little hot sauce company from Avery Island, La., may just be responsible for making this pepper well-known. However, the famous condiment is not nearly as hot as the actual pepper itself. Tabasco sauce checks in at about 2,500 to 5,000 SHUs, but the chile itself is far higher.
23Scotch Bonnet: 100,000-325,000 SHUs
This is the pepper of choice in Caribbean cuisine, gracing hot sauces and flavoring signature dishes like jerk chicken. Often confused with a habanero (they are related), this pepper can be ID'd by its squat shape, very similar to a Scotchman's hat. Get it
24Habanero: 100,000-350,000 SHUs
This small to medium chile with a fruity taste and a lantern-like shape is usually red or orange, but can come in a range of colors. No matter what, they deliver a fiery burn, making them a popular pepper to use in hot sauce and chili.
25Bird's Eye or Thai pepper: 100,000-225,000 SHUs
Most often used in Southeast Asian cuisine, this tiny, bright-red chile has a slightly fruity taste and a fiery wallop.
26Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper): 500,000-1 million SHUs
Poor ghost pepper. It once held the title for spiciest pepper, but was unseated by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and, most recently, the Carolina Reaper. This pepper, which hails from Nagaland in northeast India, is said to have a slow, building heat.
27Trinidad Moruga Scorpion: 1.2 million-2 million SHUs
Once crowned the hottest pepper in the world by New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute, this wrinkly, deep-red pepper reportedly has a sweet, slightly fruity flavor — plus heat. Lots of heat.
28Carolina Reaper: 1.5 million-2.2 million SHUs
Declared the hottest pepper on earth by Guinness World Records in November 2013, this scorcher can be as hot as pepper spray.