Here’s The Scientific Scale Used To Classify Spicy Food

Trinidad Scorpion Pepper
Trinidad Scorpion Pepper AP Photo/Courtesy of Jim Duffy, New Mexico State University

The spiciest food on the planet isthe Trinidad Scorpion, a golf-ball-sized pepper cultivatable in most parts of the world

“You take a bite. It doesn’t seem so bad, and then it builds and it builds and it builds. So it is quite nasty,” Paul Bosland, director of the New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute and known as the “Chileman,” told the Associated Press.

The chart used to determine the pepper’s heat, named the Scoville Scale after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, assigns measurable units of spiciness to various foods. For example, the Trinidad Scorpion gets a whopping 1.4 million scoville units (SCU), while jalapeño peppers range from 2,500 to 8,000.

Scoville ratings are determined by the Scoville organoleptic test. The capsaicin oil (the spicy part) of a pepper is extracted and then incrementally diluted with sugar-water until a panel of five testers can no longer taste the spiciness.

Of course, this method opens up the Scoville Scale to human error and variation, as taste changes from person-to-person. Differences can also exist among peppers of the same type. For these reasons, many on the list have a range of Soville ratings.

Today, some spice-experts tout a more scientific process, called high-performance liquid chromatography which separates chemicals based on absorption. But the Scoville Scale is still the official measurement, used by foodies and the New Mexico State University Chilli Pepper Institute alike.

See how your favourite peppers rank:

Scoville Scale peppers spicy