Watch CBSN Live

Measuring The Heat

As anyone who's mistakenly bitten into a jalapeno thinking it was a bell pepper can tell you, some chiles are hotter than others. A lot hotter.

Scientists have developed an exact way to measure the level of scorch in "Scoville units." The method, called high-pressure liquid chromatography, measures spiciness with precision, down to parts per million.

There is an enormous range in peppers' punch. The hottest, habaneros, generally measure between 100,000 and 300,000 Scoville units, while the mildest, bells, weigh in at a decidedly bland zero Scoville units. (The measurement got its name from pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville, who in 1912 invented the first, imperfect system for measuring chile heat level.)

Pure capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their kick, comes in at a mind-blowing 16 million Scoville units. By comparison, the hottest pepper ever measured, a habanero, hit the scales at a relatively benign 570,000 Scoville units.

This chart will give you a rough idea of what kind of pain to expect when you use some popular chiles and sauces. Remember: individual peppers vary widely, so actual experience may vary.

Habanero (also known in the Caribbean as Scotch Bonnet)100,000 to 300,000 Scoville Units (Must Have Fire-Retardant Tongue)
Dave's Insanity Sauce
50,000 to 200,000 Scoville Units (Best used as gag gift or instrument of revenge )
Chiltepin, Tepin, Thai50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Units (Scourge of curries everywhere)
Cayenne, Tabasco30,000 to 50,000 Scoville Units (Watch Out)
De Arbol15,000 to 30,000 Scoville Units
Yellow Wax5,000 to 15,000 Scoville Units (Can wax be spicy? Yep.)
Tabasco Sauce
7,000 Scoville Units (Middle of the pack as far as heat goes. Still a must-have.)
Jalapeno, Chipotle2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Units (Not as hot as their reputation)
Ancho, Sandia1,000 to 2,500 Scoville Units (Perfect for Grandma's salad)
New Mexican, Anaheim1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Units (Time for a nap!)
Bell, Pimento. Sweet ItalianZero Scoville Units (Spice these up with a cold glass of milk)
Hot Home
Hot Sauce Is Hot | Chile Cheesecake?
The Grand Old Man | Measuring The Heat
Hot Is Healthy | Spicy Recipes
Chile Trivia

Written and created by David Kohn

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue