How Hot is that Pepper?
Capsicum ________  (pronounced KAP-sih-kuhm)

Ever wonder how to rate the heat level (pungency) of various types of chile (chili) peppers (chillies)?  Peppers are rated based on Scoville Heat Units (SHU, scovies), a method developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912.  The original method used human tasters to evaluate how many parts of sugar water it takes to neutralize the heat.  Nowadays human tasters are spared and a process called HPLC (High Performance/Pressure Liquid Chromotography) measures the amount of capsaicinoids (capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin) in parts per million or more recently computer modelling of pepper Spectroscopy, a measure of how substances absorb light.  Pure capsaicin rates at 16,000,000 on the Scoville Scale.

Capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin are two of the alkaloid compounds that give chiles their heat.  Concentrated primarily in the veins of the fruit and secondarily in the seeds, these compounds stimulate your nerve endings making your brain "think" that you are in pain.  The brain responds by releasing substances called endorphins (like distance runners experience), which are similar in structure to morphine.  A mild euphoria results making peppers mildly addictive because of this hot pepper "high".  Ask any pepper-head (and you don't have to run 20 miles).  Chile peppers have been cultivated for thousands of years for their medicinal properties, known for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition to their culinary purposes.

In general, the smaller the mature/ripe pepper is, the hotter it will be, and dehydrated peppers tend to increase in "heat" by about 10 times.

Warning: Do not touch mucous membranes, contact lenses or privates after touching HOT peppers!!!  It is also prudent to use thin rubber gloves when seeding and/or dicing the hotter varieties (from personal experience).  Try sugar-water and honey to cut the heat, avoid plain water as it will only spread the heat, unless you like PAIN.  An ice-cold beer or margarita also help to alliviate the heat as alcohol breaks up the oily capsaicin and acts as a "fire extinguisher". Ever wonder why sopapillas are served with honey for dessert... cuts the heat.

The chart below rates common chile peppers, 0 being mildest and 10 highest heat.

Scoville Scale for Chile Heat
Chile Variety
Heat Level
Scoville Units
Relative Heat
Sweet Bells; Sweet Banana; Pimento
    0 - 100
Mexi-Bells; Cherry; Big Jim; Hungarian Paprika
 100 - 500
New Mexico; Anaheim
   500 - 1,000
Ancho (Poblano); Pasilla; Espanola; Anaheim
1,000 - 1,500
Sandia; Cascabel
1,500 - 2,500
Jalapeņo (to 10,000); Mirasol; Chipotle; Poblano
2,500 - 5,000
Yellow Wax; Serrano
5,000 - 15,000
Chile De Arbol; Serrano
15,000 - 30,000
Aji; Cayenne; Tabasco; Piquin
30,000 - 50,000
Santaka; Chiltecpin; Thai
  50,000 - 100,000
Very Hot
Habanero; Scotch Bonnet
100,000 - 350,000
Red Savina & Caribbean Red Habaneros;
Indian Bhut Jolokia ("Ghost Chile")
Hottest Pepper on the Planet at
1,001,340 Scovies* - WOW!!!
350,000 - 577,000

Pure Capsaicin

The five predominant species of chile peppers are:

Several photos of our homegrown Jalapeņos and Habaneros. Counters Bookmark ME
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* New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute, 1,001,304 SHU by HPLC.