Origin of the Scoville Scale Heat Units by Lava LipsWhere do Scoville Scale Heat Units Come From?

Wilbur Scoville

Humans have been eating peppers for centuries. There are so many different types of peppers it can be hard to differentiate the mild ones from the ones that will have you dipping your face in a bucket of ice. In today’s world, it would be easy to look up a pepper and find out exactly what level of spice it contains in a matter of seconds. What was it like for people back in the day? Thankfully a kind fellow by the name of Wilbur Scoville was there to create a heat measurement scale using “Scoville Scale Heat Units”. The advancement would shape the way we look at peppers for centuries to come.

The year was 1912 and they certainly didn’t have very advanced technology or even an easily accessible form of information back then. Being a pepper lover himself, Wilbur wanted to create a scale for people to reference when they were trying to decide which peppers they should add to their chili and other dishes. That is exactly what he went on to do.

Wilbur began by recruiting a group of trained spice tasters to test the peppers he had gathered. He would then dissolve a specific amount of dried peppers in alcohol. This would extract the heat components from the pepper, known as caspinoids. Once he had the caspinoids from each pepper, the chosen 5 tasters would then begin their duty of sampling the spicy peppers. After each sample the pepper would be diluted in a sugar water solution, and tested again, until the majority of the tasters could no longer sense the heat of the pepper. This scale was rated in multiples of 100 SHU (Scoville Scale Heat Units). And so it went on until the whole scale was complete.

Inaccuracies of Scoville Scale Heat Units

As helpful as this scale may have been, to many sensitive palates or people searching for a thrill of consuming ridiculously hot peppers, this scale has many imperfections. The biggest issue that would arise with the accuracy of the Scoville test is its human subjectivity. Everyone has a different tolerance to heat. Moreover, the taster’s palate would quickly become desensitized to heat after a few samples. Other than the individual’s sensitivity issue, every pepper is different. For example, two identical chili peppers taken from two different locations may have grown in completely different climates or soil. This would cause them to have a different level of pungency.

Today, science has made this process much more accurate and not to mention easier on our palates. We now have a much more effective and accurate way of measuring peppers without putting anyone in harm’s way. However, if you would like to take a risk and taste test some of the world’s hottest sauces, made from such peppers, we got you covered.

Use Lava Lips to find out how many Scoville Scale Heat Units are right for your Hot Sauce!
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