Scoville Scale Chart for Hot Sauce and Hot Peppers
Hot sauces and the peppers that go into them should be a part of every griller's arsenal. However, going into a market and seeing the truly staggering amount of available sauces, each of them proclaiming itself to be the hottest or the most flavorful, can be daunting.
And what's a Scoville unit, anyway? Should you be impressed by--or fearful of--a higher number? Does flavor need to be sacrificed on the altar of heat?
Hot peppers and sauces today go way beyond Tabasco and jalapenos. Let's take a look at how the Scoville scale was created, where your favorite sauce or pepper ranks on it, and how to incorporate them into your grilling, whether you're just holding a cookout or challenging your friends to daredevil acts of heat-eating.
What is the Scoville Scale?
In 1912, an American chemist named Wilbur Scoville created a method of determining the heat in a pepper by diluting its extract in sugar syrup until the heat could no longer be detected. The degrees of heat, or Scovilles, is the number of times the extract has to be diluted before that happens.
Understanding the Numbers
Anyone who's eaten a raw bell pepper knows that it has no heat, therefore it's rated at zero Scovilles. A jalapeno pepper, one of the most recognizable "hot" peppers, falls within a range of 2500 to 8000 Scovilles, since a fresh pepper's heat always varies.
Keeping that range in mind, let's check out some of the more popular peppers and sauces to see how they compare to the jalapeno.
SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS
200,000 - 350,000
30,000 - 50,000
12,000 - 30,000
2,500 - 8,000
1,500 - 2,500
1,000 - 2,000
500 - 750
Familiar Favorites and Their Scovilles
It's the rare refrigerator that doesn't have at least one bottle of hot sauce in it. Tabasco sauce, named for the pepper from which it's made, is perhaps the most famous, but Frank's Red Hot, Original Louisiana, Crystal, Cholula, and Texas Pete have their fans as well.
Sriracha, or "rooster sauce," has become almost as commonplace as ketchup in home kitchens and restaurants. All of these will have some people saying "that's too hot!" Compared to a jalapeno, though? Not so much. Regular Tabasco sauce has 2500 Scovilles, about half the units of an average jalapeno, and that's the hottest of the sauces I've named.
Sriracha has about 2200 Scovilles, and the others range from 450 (Original Louisiana, Frank's Red Hot) to 1000 (Cholula, my favorite). If you're going out for fast food tacos, don't be fooled by the intense names given to the sauces--Taco Bell's Fire Sauce, its hottest, comes in at 500 Scovilles, and Del Taco's Del Inferno has 1500.
The Heat is On
In recent years, hot sauce makers and pepper growers have fiercely competed to come up with the world's hottest concoctions. They describe their inventions as "straight from the depths of Hell" or "ultra death." Regarding familiarity, you may have seen products containing ghost peppers (Bhut Jolokia), Trinidad Scorpions, or Carolina Reapers.
The latter, created by "Smokin'" Ed Curry at the aptly named Puckerbutt Pepper Company in South Carolina, is currently rated the hottest pepper in the world, coming in at a whopping 2.2 million Scovilles.
Eating an extremely hot pepper is a popular challenge on social media, as is filming celebrities and politicians ingesting them, such as on the YouTube talk show Hot Ones.
Flavor vs. Fire
Some hot peppers and sauces seem to exist for the sole purpose of burning out one's intestines, with no taste other than heat. However, there are some that have surprisingly good flavor before the heat kicks you upside the head.
The Carolina Reaper is a good example, providing fruitiness and even a touch of sweetness prior to the Scoville wallop, which is why you see social media challengers happily munching away before turning red and writhing in agony.
Hot Ones has its own small line of sauces, including the Last Dab Redux, which is made from Carolina Reapers and its hottest sauce offered but which guests also praise for its flavor nuances.
Precautions for the Cook
As a cook, if you want to play with hot peppers and sauces, you have a lot of options, but there is one big precaution that you need to take when preparing your dish--wear gloves. Even with a relatively mild pepper like a jalapeno, cutting them gloveless is an invitation to pain.
Rubbing your eyes or your nose will definitely lead to burning and irritation, and there are more delicate parts (think what you handle when you go to the bathroom) that you don't want capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, touching.
There's a reason some sports rubs contain capsaicin--keep that in mind before you decide to let your hands go commando while chopping habaneros.
For an excellent introductory guide to the various Scovilles of peppers and sauces, Scott Roberts's blog features a concise chart where you can look up your favorites or make new discoveries.
When used judiciously, hot sauces or peppers can be a great addition to grilled meats and many other dishes, and understanding the Scoville scale will help you determine what mixture or fruit will best enhance your culinary creations.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the five hottest pepper in the world?
As of 2018, the hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina Reaper (2.2 million Scoville Heat Units) followed by the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (2 million SHU), 7 Pot Douglah (1.8 million SHU), 7 Pot Primo (1.4 million SHU) and Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” (1.4 million SHU). By comparison, a jalapeno pepper ranges from 2500 to 8000 SHU.
What is the heat scale for peppers?
As we’ve discussed in this article, the Scoville scale is a system of measurement for the spiciness of chilis and peppers. It can also be used to describe hot sauces. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) are a unit of measurement that determines the concentration of capsaicinoids, which determines how spicy a pepper will taste.
How much capsaicin is in Ghost Peppers?
Many people think that ghost peppers are the spiciest pepper on the planet, but there are actually much spicier peppers! The ghost pepper’s true name is Bhut Jolokia, and it weighs in at just over 1 million SHU. That is still in the top ten spiciest peppers in the world, but there are six peppers spicier than the ghost pepper.
Can you die from eating spicy peppers?
Technically, yes, eating too many spicy peppers (like the Carolina Reaper or the Ghost Pepper) can be detrimental to your health. A study found that eating three pounds of powdered chilies on the higher end of the Scoville chart would be enough to kill a 150-pound person, if that person ate all the powdered peppers at once. However, it seems implausible that you could eat that many chilies in one sitting.
What are the hottest hot sauces?
There are a number of hot sauces which use extremely hot peppers, such as Mad Dog or Blair’s. As compared to Sriracha (2200 SHU) or Cholula (1000 SHU), these hot sauces can range from 2 million to 16 million SHU.