What’s the hottest pepper? How hot is a your favorite pepper? For any specific pepper the heat level will vary depending on many factors such as where was the pepper grown, the amount of moisture it receives and amount of sun, etc. Although heat intensity will vary among a group of the same type of peppers (e.g. jalapenos grown in Florida vs. jalapenos grown in New Mexico) and the heat level obviously varies depending on the type of pepper (e.g. Jalapeno Peppers vs. Ghost Peppers) there is a universally accepted “heat measurement system” referred to as the Scoville scale.
The Scoville Pepper Scale identifies a numeric value of “hotness” for any chile pepper. Named after pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who in 1912 came up with today’s standard for measuring heat in the peppers that we all love.The Scoville scale measures the amount of capsaicin (pronounced cap-SAY-sin or you may hear cap-SAY-i-sin) that each type of pepper contains (technically speaking it is the amount of capsaicin per unit of dried pepper weight). Simply stated capsaicin is the stuff that makes a pepper hot. The number of Scoville heat units (SHU) indicates the amount of capsaicin in the pepper.
So, how does one determine the number of Scoville heat units in a pepper? The standard approach takes a solution of pepper extract from each pepper and then dilutes it in sugar syrup until the “heat” is no longer detectable to a panel of taste testers (typically 5 tasters). The degree of dilution equates to a measure on Wilbur’s “Scoville” scale. To illustrate how this works, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (currently the world’s hottest pepper) peaks at 2,009,231 SHU’s. This means you have to dilute the pepper extract over 2,000,000 times before the capsaicin is not detectable to your taste buds.
Is 2,000,000 SHU’s a lot? Although SHU’s for any pepper will vary based on several factors as we mentioned earlier, most people are familiar with jalapeno peppers which typically have 4,000 to 5,000 SHU’s (jalapenos can actually vary in SHU’s from 3,500 to 8,000). So, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper is approximately 400 to 500 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper. In comparison common grade pepper spray is similar to the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion at approximately 2,000,000 Scoville Units. Police grade pepper spray is around 5,000,000 Scoville Units.
So, what is the hottest pepper in the world? In the last few years we’ve had three lead changes. The Bhut Jolokia (a.k.a. Ghost Pepper) originally from India was the hottest pepper. But, in early 2012 the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion from the Caribbean became the world’s hottest pepper. Now, as of November 2013, Ed Currie’s Carolina Reaper was crowned with the honor of world’s hottest pepper. How hot is your favorite chile pepper? Refer to Armadillo Pepper’s Scoville Pepper Scale to see the heat level of the most popular peppers.
This post was updated in January 2014 to represent the Carolina Reaper as the World’s Hottest Pepper.