We can all use a little more spice in our lives and the Scoville scales fierce flavors does just that! So let’s start with understanding how to bring the heat with chili peppers. I’m talking nose running, eyes watering, mouth on fire and you’re doing that fanning motion kinda heat. To begin with, capsaicin is to blame. It’s the active ingredient in peppers that gives us the heat, which when eaten, stimulates nerve receptors on the tongue.
Over time most folks build a tolerance for spice the more we eat it. But of course, some are way more intense than others. In fact, there’s a whole scale of different degrees of heat, spice and flavors out there waiting to sizzle your tastebuds. We’re talking about The Scoville Scale and Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Named after the spicy dude who did all the research into this topic in 1912. Admittedly, I can only imagine how much milk was consumed and how much his poor eyes watered!
It should be noted that Mr Scoville developed his very own test to determine a chili pepper’s heat and how pungent they are. Subsequently, he mixed a solution of ground up peppers and sugar water then performed a taste test to determine how much each would burn the tongue. Then he led a panel of five brave testers that sipped the solution at different dilutions. And boy, I sure hope he paid those volunteers well! He would then dilute the solutions little by little with the sugar water until the burning sensation was no longer felt. (Yikes!) Hence allowing him to assign each chili pepper a number on a scale, based on how much he diluted it before it no longer burned. As a result, the measurements were divided into multiples of 100, 1 part per 1,000,000 dilutions of water rates at 1.5 Scoville Units. For reference, as of 2020, the hottest pepper in the world is the Carolina Reaper, measuring in at a crazy 2.2 million SHU. Phew. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
Of course, measuring heat has become a little more accurate thanks to High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Mainly because it measures heat by producing chemicals and rates them in ASTA pungency units.
With this in mind, what chili pepper is right for you? Naturally, it’s a little hard to say as it totally depends on your heat resilience and taste for spice. Now, smokey chipotle in meats and sauces maybe a good place to start. Additionally, a sweet habanero blended with mango, fresh tomatoes and cilantro in a beautiful colorful salsa is another option. Just keep in mind, you can totally build a tolerance slowly and really dabble in a new world of spicy goodness that will really elevate your cooking. Besides adding flavor, heat comes with some health benefits. For example it promote weight loss through kick starting your metabolism, it can improve your heart health and relieve pain. Lastly, play around and find out what works for you. In the meantime, here are a few pointers to keep in mind;
- Jalapeño slices in jars are very user friendly when playing with spice, often the seeds are removed and you can put them in sandwiches, on pizza etc to build your spice tolerance!
- Green chilis are typically hotter, while red is a little more pungent and flavor enriched.
- Smaller peppers tend to be hotter than larger peppers.
- Dried chilis flakes are always a tasty option that allow you to control your spice sprinkle by sprinkle and last a while in your pantry.
- Eyes burning and tongue sizzling? Reach for the milk! Or better yet, acidic foods like fresh lemon or tomato juice will balance out that fire!
- Adding sour cream/yogurt to a fiery sauce will help tone down it’s heat!
- Remove the seeds and stalks to tone down spice, that’s where a lot of the heat lives!
And one more bonus tip, and probably one we can all relate to. Always wear gloves/thoroughly wash your hands when preparing them. Touching your eye with capsaicin oil is an experience you’ll never forget…the pain is real! 😭
Finally, if you’d like to experience some of the Scoville scales fierce flavors then check out my spicy garlic shrimp noodles recipes.