Quick Guide to chile Scoville Scale and Chile Scoville Rating List of the Hottest Chiles

Posted by Eric Troy on 07 Apr 2012 02:53

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The Scoville Scale is a rating system used to determine a chile pepper's relative heat. It was developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. His test, which was called the Scoville Organoleptic Scale, used pepper tasters to taste different chiles and judge how many parts of sugar water needed to be added to one part of chile essence in order to completely erase the chile's heat.

No, that is not how chiles are measured today. A modern test called a High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) test is used, which determines the capsaicin concentration in the chile in parts per million. It is the capsaicin in chiles that is responsible for the heat. The heat in chiles varies. You probably have encountered a jalapeno, for instance, that blew your socks off, being so much hotter than you expected it to be. When an HPLC test is used, the results are reported in ASTA Pungency Units, which themselves can be converted to Scoville Heat Units by multiplying them by a factor of 15.

Why should you care about the Scoville or ASTA pungency units of a chile pepper? Well, there are other reasons to know the heat score of a chile beside whether it will curl your toes or not. What if you are like me, and so into awesome and unusual hot sauces that you want to make your own? Knowing the relative scores of different chiles can help you balance the sauce, as there is more to it than just heat, although heat certainly is one of the main attractions.

See also Do Chile Pepper Seeds Have Heat?

Growing conditions, weather, soil, environment, etc. all can affect the number of heat chemicals in the fruit. Not only that but even two chiles pulled from the same plant can have quite different levels of heat. Chile plants cross-pollinate so much that up to 35 different levels of pungency can be found on the same plant.2 So when an official measurement is given, it is a mean taken from many tests on different plants.

red chile pepper growing on bush
red chile pepper growing on bush

How many Scoville Units is pure Capsaicin?

Fifteen to Sixteen million. Quite dangerous and used as a weapon in pepper spray. Sometimes also used in various pain therapy, in topical creams. Take a look at that number and then think about the HPLC test, described above. It measures capsaicin concentration in parts per million, giving a much more accurate measurement than the original Scoville test, which was highly subjective. This amount is then subjected to a mathematical formula to give a rating in ASTA pungency units, which describes the relative capacity of the chile to produce a a sensation of heat. The ASTA (American Spice Trade Association) says that the ASTA pungency units can be multiplied by 15 to give Scoville Units, as one part per million equals to 15 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Some experts say this is an approximate result, giving a Scoville rating 20 to 40% lower than it would have otherwise been. Additionally, all laboratories will not get the same results in their measurements, making rating the pungency of chile peppers a quite imprecise science. However, we do pretty much know which chiles are hotter than which other chiles.

red chile pepper sliced open to show seeds and membranes
red chile pepper sliced open to show seeds and membranes

Wait a Minute, I Thought is was Called Capsicum

You may have read a cookbook, or read something, that called the burning chemical in chile peppers capsicum instead of capsaicin. It is an easy mistake to make. Capsicum is the genus of the chile pepper plants, which produce the chiles that contain the chemical capsaicin, a defensive irritant against hungry pepper loving mammals. Well, it worked on every mammal besides humans. To be more correct, the chemical, and some other related chemicals, are probably not only a defense against being eaten, but also likely a defense against fungus.

What's the Worlds Hottest Chile Pepper?

This changes all the time as new peppers are measured for their Scoville rating. Right now, the champ, recently reported by the New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute, is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. It's a small red bumpy chile about the size of a golf ball and it hits about 1.2 million on the Scoville scale, with some going to as high as 2 million. According to their report, this is the first pepper to ever top two million Scoville Units. Before that, they measured the Chocolate 7 pot at at 1.8 million SHU and the Trinidad Scorpion at 1.5 million.((bibcite bosland)

The problem with identifying the hottest chile pepper is that it depends on whether you think the Guiness Book of World Records is a good source. Right now the Guinness book lists Smokin Ed's 'Carolina Reaper as the record holder, at 1,569,300 Scoville Heat Units based on tests from Winthrop University, having beat the Trinidad Scorpion 'Butch T' variety, and before that Bhut Jolokia, sometime called the Naga jolokia or Naga King chile, but usually known as the Ghost Chile in the U.S. was the reigning champ at 1,001,304 Scoville Heat Units, having ousted the Red Savina habanero, at a paultry 577,000.


There are over 7000 varieties of capsicum in the world and no doubt and even more ridiculously hot one will be uncovered in the near future. Hopefully I'll remember to update this page.

Why Does it Take a Few Seconds for the Heat of a Chile Pepper to Register?

The chemoreceptors in your tongue (and elsewhere) that detect capsaicin, and its heat, are located just a bit under the surface of the tongue…a few millimeters at best, but enough to delay the burning sensation for a second or two.

What's the Best Cure for Too Hot Chile Pepper Burn?

Dairy, hands down. Drink milk or eat some other dairy product high in casein protein. The casein joins with the capsaicin, thus removing it from your tongue. Water can just spread the oils, and the burn, around!

Here is a List of the Hottest chiles and Their Scoville Ratings

This list is not in alphabetical order. Instead, it goes from the least spicy to the highest Scoville ratings. To put into perspective the kind of heat we are talking about with these chiles, the familiar jalapeno chile has a Scoville rating of 2,500 to 8,000.

Chile Name Scoville Rating
Thai 50,000 - 100,000
Diablo Grande 60,000 - 100,000
Malagueta 60,000 - 100,000
Charleston 70,000 - 100,000
Pico de Pajaro 70,000 - 100,000
Merah 85,000 ~ 100,000
Bahamian 95,000 - 110,000
Tabiche 85,000 - 115,000
Bahamian 95,000 - 110,000
Carolina Cayenne 100,000 ~ 125,000
Kumataka 125,000 - 150,000
Bahamian 125,000 - 300,000
Jamaican Hot 100,000 - 200,000
Birds Eye 100,000 - 225,000
Madame Jeanette 175,000 - 225,000
Tepin 100,000 - 265,000
Texas Chiltepin 100,000 - 265,000
Datil 100,000 - 300,000
Devil Toung 125,000 - 325,000
Fatalii 125,000 - 325,000
Orange Habanero 150,000 - 325,000
Scotch Bonnet 150,000 - 325,000
TigrePaw-NR 265,000 - 348,000
Rocoto / Manzano 225,000 - 350,000
Caribbean Red 20,000 - 400,000
Choclate Habanero 325,000 - 425,000
Red Savina Habanero 350,000 - 575,000
Dorset Naga 800,000 - 970,000
Naga Jolokia'/Ghost Pepper 800,000 - 1,041,000
Infinity 800,000 - 1,067,286
Naga Viper 800,000 - 1,382,118
Trinidad Scorpion 900,000 - 1,463,700

A more complete pepper listing can be found at ushostuff.com.

What's the Difference Between Chiles and Dried Black Pepper?

The two are completely unrelated. In fact, although we in America are always calling chiles "peppers" they have nothing to do with true 'pepper,' like the Black peppercorn that we grind to get the stuff in our pepper shaker.

The genus, capsicum, has more in common with tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants than it does pepper. These all come from the nightshade family, otherwise known as Solanaceae. Although we eat the fruits of some of the plants from this family, many of the plants themselves are poisonous. You have probably heard of the Deadly Nightshade.

Tomatillos also belong to the Nightshade family. So, the next time some know-it-all makes a big deal of how tomatillos aren't related to the tomato at all, but are related to the gooseberry, you can tell them that, indeed, they must be related to the tomato, being from the same family and all. You can also tell them that there are completely different fruits known as gooseberries, so they must be specific. The Peruvian, or Cape gooseberry are also of the family solanaceae, but of the genus physalis, as are tomatillos. Whereas tomatoes are of the genus solanum. On the other hand, the Eurasian gooseberry is from the family grossulariaceae and the genus ribes. Tomatillos, by the way, are often mistaken for being a type of chile, causing some to wonder about hte tomatillo scoville rating. They of course, have no chile heat, although some might call their taste 'spicy.'

Black pepper, or piper nigrum, is a plant that is also unrelated to chiles, being of the order piperales and the family piperaceae, the genus piper. The fruit of this plant is known as the peppercorn, and it is dried and ground as a spice.

Black Pepper Scoville?

It is the chemical piperine that gives black pepper its pungency, not capsaicin. Although I have never been able to find a Scoville rating for black peppercorns, it should be possible to use the same organoleptic Scoville rating scale, although modern tests which find the amount of capsaicin would not be useful at all. I have read that capsaicin is about 70 times hotter than piperine. So, black pepper can never come close to a hot chile pepper, if that is true. But why do we call chiles peppers, if they are not really of the same family?

Well, by the time Europeans (the Spanish), first came to the Caribbean islands and encountered chiles, they were already well familiar with black pepper. So naturally the chile's pungent spice reminded them of the black pepper they knew, and the name pepper became associated with the chile from then forward.

While We're at It, Aren't You Spelling Chile Wrong Here?

I don't think so. You can spell it chili pepper, if you wish, but to me that gets the chile confused with the Texas dish, chili. Chile, with an -e on the end, is the Spanish spelling.

How Hot is Pepper Spray in Scoville Units?

Police grade pepper spray hits 5.3 million Scoville units. The common consumer self-defence pepper spray is 2 to 3 million SHU.

1. Schlosser, Katherine K. The Herb Society of America's Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2007.
2. Butel, Jane. Hotter than Hell: Hot and Spicy Dishes from around the World. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Pub., 2005.
3. Larsen, Linda Johnson. The Everything Tex-Mex Cookbook: 300 Flavorful Recipes to Spice up Your Mealtimes! Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2006.
4. Bosland, Paul W., Denise Coon, and Gregory Reeves. ‘Trinidad Moruga Scorpion’ Pepper Is the World’s Hottest Measured Chile Pepper at More Than Two Million Scoville Heat Units. Las Cruces, NM: Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University, Aug. 2012. PDF

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