Image: courtesy Massachusetts College of Pharmacy

 The Scoville Organoleptic Unit Test

Wilbur Scoville lived from 1865-1942.
Professor: Massachusetts College of Pharmacy (1892-1904)

Wilbur Scoville is famous for his heat scale work at Park Davis, a Detroit-based pharmaceutical company, where he devised a heat scale for peppers. This test is named after him, the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Originally, Scoville ratings were based on human response to progressive dilutions. Scoville blended pure ground chiles with a sugar-water solution and a panel of testers then sipped the concoctions, in increasingly diluted concentrations. They reach a point at which the liquid no longer burned the mouth. A number was then assigned to each chile based on how much it needed to be diluted before you could taste no heat. The American Pharmaceutical Association awarded Scoville the Ebert Prize in 1922, and the Remington Honor Medal in 1929, though likely these awards had nothing to do with his eponym.

Scoville Units Popular Pepper Varieties

  • 0-100 Scoville Units includes most Bell & Sweet pepper varieties.
  • 500-1000 Scoville Units includes New Mexican peppers.
  • 1,000-1,500 Scoville Units includes Espanola peppers.
  • 1,000-2,000 Scoville Units includes Ancho & Pasilla peppers.
  • 1,000-2,500 Scoville Units includes Cascabel & Cherry peppers.
  • 2,500-5,000 Scoville Units includes Jalapeno & Mirasol peppers.
  • 5,000-15,000 Scoville Units includes Serrano peppers.
  • 15,000-30,000 Scoville Units includes de Arbol peppers.
  • 30,000-50,000 Scoville Units includes Cayenne & Tabasco peppers.
  • 50,000-100,000 Scoville Units includes Chiltepin peppers
  • 100,000-350,000 Scoville Units includes Scotch Bonnet & Thai peppers.
  • 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville Units includes Habanero peppers.
  • 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Scoville Units includes all the world class C. chinense varieties originating mostly from a particular Trinidadian strain.
  • 16,000,000+ Scoville Units is Pure Capsaicin.

High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Test (HPLC)

The validity and accuracy of the Scoville Unit test have been widely criticized. Today the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) test is used in research sittuations. Pepper pods are dried and ground. The chemicals responsible for the pungency, capsaicin are extracted. The extract is injected into the HPLC machine for analysis. This method is more costly than the the human version. However it allows for an objective heat analysis. Not only does this method measure the total heat present, but it also gives the quantity of the different capsaicinoids.

Do Hot Peppers Damage the Tongue

Can very hot peppers have the potential to damage taste buds? “Not true”. Says Dr. Paul Bosland, professor of horticulture at New Mexico State University and author or several books on hot peppers. “We should think of chile heat like we do the taste of salt; easy to overdo in the moment, but not damaging to your mouth over the long term. Even the hottest habanero (100,000–350,000 on the Scoville scale), which can stay on your palate for hours — if not days –  won’t wear out your tender buds.” Bosland and his colleagues have broken the heat profile of chile peppers into five distinctly different characteristics. 1) how hot it is, 2) how fast the heat comes on, 3) whether it linger or dissipates quickly, 4) where you sense the heat – on the tip of tongue, at the back of throat, etc., and 5) whether the heat registers as “flat” or “sharp.”



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