In 1912, pharmacist—and assumed spicy food lover—Wilbur Scoville developed a system for measuring the level of heat in peppers and other spicy by measuring them in Scoville Heat Units, a.k.a. SHU, or the concentration of capsaicin found within them. Here are 10 peppers and how they rank on the Scoville Scale. How many would you be willing to give a try?
1. NAGA JOLOKIA (OR BHUT JOLOKIA) PEPPER
This is about as hot as a pepper gets at 855,000 to 1,050,000 Scoville units. It's not at the very top of the scale because that spot is reserved for pure capsaicin, the component in hot peppers that make them have that "burn." At the time this pepper was tested for the Scoville scale, the Red Savina (see below) was the hottest pepper in the world, and the bhut jolokia was found to be nearly twice as hot as that. It's reported that eating just one seed from this scorcher can make your mouth hurt for up to 30 minutes after you consume it. And you had better not get it in your eyes.
2. RED SAVINA PEPPER
The red savina was specifically grown to be a super-hot chili. Frank Garcia of GNS Spices in Walnut, California invented it (or bred it, I guess, would be more accurate), but people have been having trouble growing the red savina up to the level of hotness Garcia did, even when they have a certified red savina seed. Even so, you can find most red savinas somewhere between 350,000 and 580,000 on the Scoville.
3. HABANERO PEPPER
It's believed to have originated in the Yucatan and has a bit of a citrus flavor to it. The bhut jolokia is often mistaken for a habanero, but you would know the difference as soon as you bit into one. The habanero is only (only) 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units.
4. DATIL PEPPER
It can be called a sweeter, fruitier version of the habanero. But just because it's sweeter doesn't mean it packs less punch: it can go up to 300,000 units on the Scoville, just like the Habanero can. It can also be milder, going all the way down to 100,000 units. You can find lots of datil peppers in the St. Augustine, Florida, area.
5. ROCOTO (ALSO LOCOTO) PEPPER
It isn't really found in the U.S. too much. It's common in South American countries and used in their cooking quite a bit. And it's so pretty! It can be a fairly mild pepper at 50,000 Scoville units, which is the equivalent of a really spicy cayenne pepper, but they can take you by surprise at 250,000 units as well.
6. CHILTEPIN PEPPER
It grows in Central America, Mexico, and the southwestern U.S. They're just little guys. The pepper is also known as the chile tepin, tepin being a Nahuatl word that means "flea." But don't let their little size fool you! Their heat is intense, measuring between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville units. But if you can get through the first minute or so, you'll probably be OK: the heat is super strong but subsides quickly.
7. PEQUIN PEPPER
You probably know this pepper, but you may not realize it. It's one of the main ingredients in the cholula sauce you'll often find at Mexican restaurants. It's not too bad, being comparable in heat to the Cayenne at 30,000 to 60,000 Scoville units. But the taste is much different: it's supposed to have a smoky, nutty flavor.
8. CAYENNE PEPPER
It's a bit milder, rating at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. It's named after the French Guiana city of Cayenne. I'm sure you're familiar with the cayenne pepper; it's ground and sold as a pretty common spice. Although it's only halfway down on the scale, it's definitely has some kick to it and is too hot for some people.
9. SERRANO PEPPER
It has just a little more kick than a jalapeño: 10,000 to 20,000 Scoville units. Not bad at all. You can also put some chipotle peppers in this category; a chipotle is really just a jalapeño that has been dried and treated.
10. JALEPENO PEPPER
At 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units, it's pretty mild compared to the rest of these scorchers.