How Hot is Hot?

      How hot is hot?
      The heat in all chiles, whether hot or mild, is due to the flavorless, odorless, colorless chemical known as capsaicin. In 1912, William Scoville, a Detroit pharmacologist, measured capsaicin by having a panel of hardy souls sip a sweetened solution of dried chile peppers dissolved in alcohol. The concoction had decreasing amounts of capsaicin until it no longer burned. The results were converted into Scoville units -- with no mention made as to what happened to all those tasters.

      In recent years, this subjective test was converted to a chemical process, but with results still expressed as Scoville units. Scoville units can range from zero (the good old bell pepper) to more than half a million (the Red Savina habanero chile).

      Disagreement is common, and the heat of chiles can even vary on the same plant, but the ratings give a good idea of relative chile heat.

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