The notorious measurement of hotness, the Scoville Unit, gained its name from the American pharmacologist Wilbour L. Scoville (1865-1942). In 1912, he developed a method to determine the capsaicin content of a chili pepper. Shortly afterwards, he published his study in the renowned “Journal of the American Pharmacists Association”.
As any respectable scientist would, Mr. Scoville began to collect data through a series of experiments. His surprisingly simple methods consisted of diluting and tasting. A number of human guinea pigs tried the watered-down solutions of chili-containing substances over a longer period of time. Through the observations of his test subjects, Scoville could determine a point of dilution at which the majority of people no longer noticed any spiciness. This point helped him establish the classification of the substance on the Scoville scale, from 0 SCU up to 16,000,000 SCU. For example, Tabasco sauce contains between 3,000 and 5,000 SCU. Some of the sauces in our range of products reach several million SCU!
Unfortunately, this method proved to be not only time consuming, but also lacked accuracy, since everyone reacts differently to capsaicin. Individual eating habits, genetic factors, the personal level of training in all things spicy and even the mood of the day all have a clear influence on the perception of spiciness. So hotness is all a matter of relativity!
Nowadays, the classification of Scoville Units no longer requires torturing human subjects – unless, of course, they choose to do so. In the meantime, a high performance fluid chromatography test can determine the capsaicin content very accurately in a laboratory. But since this modern method of analysis does not follow any strict guidelines, the results of different institutes and laboratories cannot really be compared. The manufacturer's specifications about their individual products' Scoville Units should therefore be enjoyed with caution. Rumour has it that some manufacturers even intentionally exaggerate their product's Scoville Units because spicier hot sauces sell better.
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