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South Africa’s Place on the Scoville Scale

What is the Scoville Scale you may ask? Well every chilli, pepper or spicy plant can actually be measured by exactly how hot they are… and they are measured on the Scoville Scale. Your garden variety bell pepper, as in green, red or yellow, measures an underwhelming 0 on the Scoville Scale. Is that even possible if bell peppers definitely have a bite? That’s really not even the most shocking fact: the Scoville Scale goes up to 2,000 000! It stands to reason that there’s something out there that is 2,000 000 times hotter than a bell pepper… ouch!

Some Like it Hot

The Scoville scale wasn’t named after a famous chef or gardener, but a pharmacist – which really gives you an idea of how dangerous chilli can get. Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville Organoleptic Test to gauge the pungency (aka the spiciness) in terms of SHU or Scoville heat units.

Local is Lekker Hot

So how do some of our local chilli peppers and blends measure up on the Scoville Scale? As mentioned, the bell pepper finds itself around 0 SHU; I suggest starting there for reference. Locally you can find Serrano, habanero, jalapeno, cayenne and bird’s eye chillis are common… but how do they measure up?

  • Jalapeno: 2,500 to 10,000 SHU
  • Serrano: 10,000 to 25,000 SHU
  • Cayenne: 30,000 to 50,000 SHU
  • Bird’s Eye: 100,000 to 225,000 SHU
  • Habanero: 300,000 SHU

It’s crazy to think that even these huge numbers are actually small fry in the context of the Scoville Scale. However, the habanero isn’t that far off from police-grade pepper spray which averages at 500,000 SHU!

A Matter of Taste

The only issue with the Scoville scale is that it’s difficult to account for acquired tastes, as the tests are human-verified (imagine eating chilli for a living). So today it has largely been replaced by HPLC, or high-performance liquid chromatography). As African’s we can be proud that the highest rated Scoville Scale item comes to us from Morocco, but I wouldn’t put it on my food: Resiniferatoxin (RTX) is found in cactus-like plants in the Atlas Mountains and carries a whopping 16, 000 000 000 SHU – more than enough to cause the permanent loss of taste, serious injury or even death. These chillis are no joke.

Either way, we still like a bit of bite in our food; so join us in the KitchenCoZa house this week as we put our very own Smaaklike Samoosas to the taste test.