Scoville scale

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The Scoville scale is a measurement of the spicy heat (or piquance) of a chili pepper.

The number of Scoville heat units (SHU)[1] indicates the amount of capsaicin present. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in the skin, especially the mucous membranes.

The scale is named after its creator, American chemist Wilbur Scoville. His method, devised in 1912,[2] is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test. An alternative method for quantitative analysis uses high-performance liquid chromatography, making it possible to directly measure capsaicinoid content.


Scoville organoleptic test

In Scoville's method, an alcohol extract of the capsaicin oil from a measured amount of dried pepper is added incrementally to a solution of sugar in water until the "heat" is just detectable by a panel of (usually five) tasters; the degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale. Thus a sweet pepper or a bell pepper, containing no capsaicin at all, has a Scoville rating of zero, meaning no heat detectable. The hottest chilis, such as habaneros and nagas, have a rating of 200,000 or more, indicating that their extract must be diluted over 200,000 times before the capsaicin presence is undetectable. The greatest weakness of the Scoville Organoleptic Test is its imprecision, because it relies on human subjectivity. Tasters taste only one sample per session.

High-performance liquid chromatography

Spice heat is usually measured by a method that uses high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This identifies and measures the concentration of heat-producing chemicals. The measurements are used in a mathematical formula that weights them according to their relative capacity to produce a sensation of heat. This method yields results, not in Scoville units, but in American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units. A measurement of one part capsaicin per million corresponds to about 150 Scoville units, and the published method says that ASTA pungency units can be multiplied by 15 and reported as Scoville units. This conversion is approximate, and spice experts Donna R. Tainter and Anthony T. Grenis say that there is consensus that it gives results about 20–40% lower than the actual Scoville method would have given.[3]

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