A lot of people, beginners or veterans tend to ask us the same question when introduced to a new variety of chilli pepper: “so, how hot is it?”. Ay, there's the rub! as Hamlet would say. Indeed, there isn't actually a true measurement that can be made for each variety as many factors such as growing conditions, soil, seed lineage and climate contribute to whether or not a chilli will bear the sacred mark of “hot”. 

But fear not as a clever fellow a century ago (in 1912 to be precise!) managed to create a scale for chilli heat, a bit like the Richter scale for earthquakes, namely, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. 

It basically work like this: capsaicin is what makes chilli pepper hot. This capsaicin can be found in every particle of the fruit but is mainly concentrated in the thin membranes on its inner side and its seeds. The Scoville organoleptic test extracts this capsaicin and adds sugary water to it little by little. A measure on the Scoville scale can be applied when heat is no longer detectable in the sample of water & capsaicin. 

But what does it mean concretely? Well, that you should at least always try and see what the Scoville rating of a chilli pepper is before you try it, especially when it comes to the most devilish ones! To give you an example, a Poblano chilli pepper only has between 1000-2,500 SHU (Scoville Heat Units) whereas a Trinidad Morouga Scorpion rates at above 1.5 million! Chemical warfare (hand grenades and pepper sprays) actually starts at 2 million SHU's so you can imagine its potency!

There are currently five main families of chilli peppers: Annuum, Baccatum, Chinense, Frutescens and Pubescens. A good way to know what you're getting is to remember that Frutescens, Baccatum and Pubescens are still in the realm of bearable while the Annuum family starts to hot things up. That leaves us with the Chinense family which, you've guessed it, is at the head of the hot parade, thanks to Mother Nature but also sometimes thanks to botanical manipulations from growers in order to get the world record of chilli heat for their own strain. 

The Scoville scale is therefore very practical when it comes to anticipating your future agony but if you are still not sure what to get from Bountiful Seeds here is an easy way to remember the various grades of some chilli peppers going from mild to wild:

The MILD Bishop talked to Big Jim about the Maules Pinata he had received this morning from Ubatuba

The MEDIUM Jamaican Red went to the Little Elf to get a glass of Aji Crystal at NuMex Twilight.

Habanero Gold liked a bit of Scotch Bonnet, especially when it arrived HOT from the Trinidad Congo.

MAD Naga Morouga wondered if he would ever get to kick Raja Mirch's Bhut Jolokia as he was starting to get on his Naglah.



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Everything you need to know about the scoville scale
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