Sunday, June 7, 2009

Just how hot is that chili? The Scoville Chart.

I like spicy food, but not so spicy that that I have lesions on my tongue after taking a bite. My friend Joy lived in Thailand for several years, and she swears that her taste buds have been burned off by the spiciness of the food. Those little red Thai chiles can be lethal.

I rarely know when I buy fresh or dried chiles how hot they will be. There have been many times when I've made a fresh salsa or something, and the chiles I've used have been much, much too hot--the dish was inedible. I was making some beans over the weekend and I used a few of these Guajillo chili peppers. I was looking over the package and noticed that these chiles were marked with their Scoville rating. How neat!

Do you know what the Scoville Rating System is? It's a way to measure the relative heat of chili peppers. A bell pepper has a rating of 0. At the other end of the scale, a Habanero--one of the hottest peppers in the world, has a rating of about 250,000. So, at 6000 Scoville units, my Guajillo chiles were very mild and I was able to use a bunch of them in the beans.

Here is a bit of technical information on the Scoville System, and the rating of some popular chili peppers:

Pungency values for any pepper, stated in Scoville units, are imprecise, due to expected variation within a species—easily by a factor of 10 or more—depending on seed lineage, climate (humidity is a big factor for the Naga as the Dorset Naga and the original Naga have quite different ratings), and even soil (this is especially true of habaneros). The inaccuracies described in the measurement methods above also contribute to the imprecision of these values. When interpreting Scoville ratings, this should be kept in mind.

Scoville Rating for Various Chili Peppers

Type of Pepper

Pure Capsaicin 15,000,000–16,000,000

Law Enforcement Pepper Spray 5,000,000–5,300,000

Naga Jolokia 855,000–1,050,000

Red Savina Habanero 350,000-580,000

Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Birdseye 100,000–350,000

Thai Pepper, Pequin Pepper 50,000–100,000

Cayenne Pepper, Tabasco, Chipotle 30,000–50,000

Serrano Pepper 10,000–23,000

Jalapeno, Guajillo, Anaheim Pepper 2,500–8,000

Poblano 500–2,500

Pimento, Pepperoncini 100–500

Bell Pepper no heat
(This information is from Wikipedia.)

What's a Scoville? From Margen, S. et. al (1992).The wellness encyclopedia of food and nutrition: How to buy, store, and prepare every variety of fresh food. Distributed by Random House. ISBN 0-929661-03-6."Capsaicinoid content is measured in parts per million. These parts per million are converted into Scoville heat units, the industry standard for measuring a pepper's punch. One part per million is equivalent to 15 Scoville units. Bell peppers have a value of zero Scoville units, whereas habanero -- the hottest peppers--register a blistering 200,000 to 300,000. Pure capsaicin has a Scoville heat unit score of 16 million." (p.140)
(This information is from

If you've avoided using chiles in your home cooking because of the potential heat, try some of the ones with low Scoville ratings; they can add a lot of flavor to your food. The Guajillo chiles I used were just delicious--nice and smoky. The beans were so good; I actually made a really special recipe with them, and I'll post about it in the next day or so.


  1. That is very interesting. I had no idea there was a rating system. And I had no idea there were so many different kinds of chilies. Thanks for the great info.

  2. That Scoville scale is really interesting, Michele. I love hot peppers (roasted green chilies or cherry peppers with garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Tamari) — a staple in our diet. I'm growing some bhut jolokia this year, which is not quite as hot as that pepper spray, but darn close from what I hear! I will tread lightly with this one.

  3. Thank you for introducing us to the Scoville scale. I was not aware of it - and all those chillies - so many, who'd have thought it.

    I love spicy food. I have nevr used those big dried chillies sold in delis, so am looking forward to seeing what you come up with. Then I am confident I will experiment with them

  4. Thanks for commenting Kristy!

    Barbara- I love the red cherry peppers as well. Bhut Jolokia? Is that an Indian pepper. I think the very hottest peppers grown are Indian varieties.

    mango- I like the big dried chiles because they can add so much flavor to a dish. The Guajillos were really lovely.

  5. I saw this in Food Network! Very interesting...and I myself have foolishly once underestimated the potency of those little thai chilis! Almost burned my tongue off!

  6. Thanks for commenting Jaime and burpandslurp!