What? Capsaicin & Scoville Heat Units?
To most Chile Heads, this is what it's all about! Chile Heads are those of us with a strong devotion to the celebration of all things Chile. This devotion has Chile Heads eating, growing, harvesting, cooking, wearing and researching everything Chile. This devotion to chiles begins with eating chiles. Chile Heads not only consider how hot is the chile, but where they feel the first burn, did the burn come on fast and sharp or was it a creeper burn, how long the burning sensation lasts and not to mention the flavor of the chile.
Capsaicin is what puts the heat or pungency in chiles. It is a compound that is insoluble in water, tasteless and odorless. It is made of seven closely related alkaloid or capsaicinoids. Three of these components cause the "rapid bite" at the back of the palate and throat and two others cause the long, slow burn on the tongue. Capsaicin is produced and found in the placental partition ("white" cross wall and veins) of the pod. The seeds become pungent through contact with the placenta.
In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a chemist under the employ of Parke Davis Pharmaceutical Company, developed a method to measure the heat level of chiles. The test is call the Scoville Organoleptic Test. In his original testing, Mr. Scoville blended various pure ground chiles with a sugar-water solution. A panel of testers then sipped the concoctions in increasingly diluted concentration, until they reached the point at which the solutions no longer burned the mouth. A number was then assigned to each variety of chile based on how much it needed to be diluted before heat was no longer tasted. This measurement of millions of drops of water-sugar solution is then translated into Scoville Heat Units (SHU) in multiples of 100. This technique is subjective amd depends on the taster's palate and it's response to the pungent chemicals. The accuracy of this test is often criticized and modified versions have been developed.
Show Me the Scoville Heat Units!
Scoville Units Chile Varieties and Commercial Products
15,000,000-6,000,000 Pure Capsaicin
100,000-500,000 Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, South American chinenses, African birdseye
50,000-100,000 Santaka, Chiltepin, Rocoto, Chinese kwangsi
30,000-50,000 Piquin, Cayenne Long, Tabasco, Thai prik khee nu, Pakistan dundicut
15,000-30,000 de Arbol; Crushed Red Pepper; Habanero Hot Sauce
5,000-15,000 Early JalapeÃ±o, Aji Amarillo, Serrano; Tabasco Â® Sauce
2,500-5,000 TAM Mild JalapeÃ±o, Mirasol; Cayenne Large Thick; Louisiana hot sauce
1,500-2,500 Sandia, Cascabel, Yellow Wax Hot
1,000-1,500 Ancho, Pasilla, EspaÃ±ola Improved; Old Bay Seasoning
500-000 NuMex Big Jim, NuMex 6_4, chili powder
100-500 NuMex R_Naky, Mexi_Bell, Cherry; Hungarian hot paprika
10-100 Pickled pepperoncini
0 Mild Bells, Pimiento, Sweet Ban
There is always the simple and often used scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the hottest. The heat can often be so intense that it seems anything above an 7 or 8 seems like a 10.
In September 2000, the news spread like "chile-fire" that scientists in India claimed that the hottest chile in the world is grown in the northeastern hills of Assam. A variety called Naga Jolokia (capsicum frutescens) tested 855,000 Scoville Heat Units. This far surpassed the Red Savina, listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's hottest chile, which measured in at 577,000 SHU. Still awaiting the official winner in this race. A new contender in this race is the Francisca Habanero.
As some may know by tasting several jalapenos, this heat level can vary from pod to pod, as the result of growth condition and genetics. This is why you see a range of SHU's above. Each pod has its own "personality".
What About The Capsaicin Addiction?
It is said that the burning sensation from capsaicin is addictive. It is also said that one becomes "conditioned" to this sensation. The reason is that during the eating of chiles, a chemical in the chile pepper called Capsaicin, irritates the trigeminal cells. These are pain receptor cells located throughout the mouth, the nose and the throat. When your body's nerves feel the pain induced by the chemical on these cells, they immediately start to transmit pain messages to your brain. Your brain receives these signals and responds by automatically releasing endorphins (the body's natural painkiller). These endorphins kick in and act as a painkiller and at the same time, create a temporary feeling of euphoria, giving the chile pepper eater, a natural high.
The body's other responses include increasing the heart rate to increase the metabolism, increasing salivation in order to try and refresh the mouth and by increasing the rate of sweating by the body. Your nose also starts to run and the gastrointestinal tract slips into high speed. Hot & spicy food lovers soon begin to crave these feelings and are soon hooked.
What To Do If You Do Get Burned:
The capsaicin in the chiles, not only burn your mouth, but it will burn your hands and whatever part of your body your hands will come in contact with.This includes eyes, lips, mouth, nose, ears, genitals, you name it, it will burn. When handling chiles, always were gloves. Get some of the disposable surgical gloves. Even then, capsaicin has been known to penetrate. Watch for small holes, too.
If you burn your hands or get a case of what is known as Hunan Hand, wash thoroughly, then soak in vinegar, tomato juice, lemon or lime juice. Personally, If burned in the mouth while eating chiles or hot sauce, try drinking milk, or eating some ice cream, yogurt, peanut butter, cheese, bread or rice. The capsaicin will bind to the fats in these products. As instinctively as we may want to reach for water or a beer, that will not break down the capsaicin and can actually intensify the burn by just flushing it around, but then again, it is still very refreshing!
And the latest we have heard: Another approach to removing the heat from your mouth if the chile is a bit too much is by placing table salt on your tongue, closing your mouth and keeping it there until it dissolves away. Sounds odd, but it works. Just keep a beer close at hand to wash the salty taste out of your mouth afterwards!
When chopping peppers, use a wooden cutting board dedicated only to peppers, which chile oils can saturate.