You might know a little about Scoville Units – and that a lot of them means it’s a spicy pepper. But you may not realize how the scale is antiquated, and that we’ve moved far past the initial methods used by Wilbur Scoville. In 1912, Scoville created a test (called the Scoville Organoleptic Test for the nerds out there), which took dried pepper, dissolved in alcohol to isolate the capsaicin we learned about earlier this week, and then diluted in a solution of sugar water. This concoction was then given to five trained testers (and to think this whole scale we’ve used for over a hundred years was created by five people). The solution was then diluted with more sugar water until a majority couldn’t detect the heat anymore. The heat level was then determined by how diluted it became, and rated in multiples of 100 Scoville Heat Units.
While I’m sure millions around the world would agree certain peppers are definitely the spiciest, here are a few flaws in the system:
Nowadays, we use high-performance liquid chromatography, which allows for a mathematical formula to rate the peppers according to their relative capacity to produce perceived "heat."
Scoville Units aren’t just used for chile pepper eating contests or hot sauce descriptions. One study in 2010 showed a relationship between tumor cell growth inhibition and the amount of capsaicin, determined by Scoville Units, in the peppers being studied. Another study in 2008 demonstrated that capsaicin is rapidly absorbed through the skin, and is thought to produce an analgesic to help manage pain. Did you know that capsaicin can reduce post-operative nausea and vomiting when applied to acupressure points? A study in 2005 showed us that some natural ways of reducing pain might be more effective than other pharmacological treatments.
According to the Journal of Endourology, a study showed that capsaicin acts as “a specific neurotoxin that desensitizes C-fiber afferent neurons, which may be responsible for the signals that trigger (bladder) overactivity.” Bladder problems? It might be time eat more hot sauce!
This magical molecule can kill tumors, block pain receptors, and have the ability to desensitize specific types of neurons. Just look for the peppers with the highest numbers on the Scoville Scale!