Harnett County,
North Carolina

Cooperative Extension 

Which pepper tops the hottie list?

ASK THE HORT AGENT

Question Which pepper tops the hottie list?

Answer In reference to peppers, there are challengers that pop up every year. I am not a hot pepper person, and police pepper spray doesn't make a good taste test. Therefore, I won't be able to speak from personal experience. The hotness of peppers is measured in Scoville units. The Scoville Organoleptic Test was invented in 1912 by a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville.

Determining Scoville units is somewhat subjective. To achieve a rating, it takes three out of five people to taste the “heat” in a diluted solution of alcohol and sugar water. The ratio of dilution is the Scoville unit. For example, the Cayenne is usually detected by 60 percent of the testers when diluted at a ratio of 1 part to 30,000 parts solution (1:30,000 and up

to 1:50,000). Therefore, the Scoville rating for Cayenne would be between 30,000 to 50,000.

Today, high‑pressure liquid chromatography is used to measure capsaicin (the heat producing chemical). This method is very precise. It measures the capsaicin levels in parts per million (mg/L). This is then converted to Scoville units.

In 1994 a spice company tested a Red Savina Habanero. It had an astonishing 577,000 Scoville units (su) and was the hottest pepper ever tested. Scotch Bonnet, Red Savina and Habanero are all types of Habanero pepper. In 2006, a chili pepper called Dorset Naga registered between 850,000 and 970,000 su. The new record only lasted a year. Early in 2007, Guinness Book of World Records crowned a new king of the hotties - Naga Jolokia. This chili pepper is from India and scores over a million on the Scoville scale (1,001,300 su)! This pepper is literally “too hot to handle.”

The term "hot" can be subjective, but here's a tip to turn the heat up or down. For maximum hotness, eat the entire pepper with seeds and pulp. To cool off your peppers, pick before ripe and remove seeds and pulp.

To cool off a burning mouth, try bread, pasta, potatoes or a banana. Dairy products contain a binding agent (or protein) called casein. This protein attaches to the capsaicin and prevents them from continuing to burn. Since capsaicin is an oil, it won't mix with water. Water may feel cool, but it won’t stop the burn.

Believe it or not, capsaicin's ability to cause pain makes it useful in alleviating pain. Continuous exposure to capsaicin lowers sensitivity to pain. It is sometimes used in the treatment of arthritis and other chronically painful conditions. For info on the heat (capsaicin), visit http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/macon/palette/060910.html If you do not have internet access then call the Extension Office at 893-7533 or email me at gpierce@harnett.org

In India, Naga Jolokia peppers are smeared on fence posts to keep wild elephants away. Why in the world would somebody want to eat something powerful enough to stop a wild elephant?

Gary L. Pierce

Horticulture Extension Agent

Harnett County

 
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