Ask the Hort Agent with Gary L. Pierce, Horticulture Extension Agent, Harnett County
Question: Which hot pepper is the hottest?
Answer: I am not a hot pepper person, and police pepper spray doesn't make a good taste test. Therefore, I won't be able to speak from personal experience. Luckily, the hotness of peppers is measured in Scoville units. The Scoville Organoleptic Test was invented in 1912 by a pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville.
Determining Scoville units is somewhat subjective. To achieve a rating, it takes three out of five people to taste the “heat” in a diluted solution of alcohol and sugar water. The ratio of dilution is the Scoville unit. For example, the Cayenne is usually detected by 60 percent of the testers when diluted at a ratio of 1 part to 30,000 parts solution (1:30,000 and up to 1:50,000). Therefore, the Scoville rating for Cayenne would be between 30,000 to 50,000.
Today, high-pressure liquid chromatography is used to measure capsaicin (the heat producing chemical). This method is very precise. It measures the capsaicin levels in parts per million (mg/L). This is then converted to Scoville units.
In 1994 a spice company tested a Red Savina Habanero. It had an astonishing 577,000 Scoville units (su) and was the hottest pepper ever tested. In 2006, a chili pepper called Dorset Naga registered between 850,000 and 970,000 su. The new record only lasted a year. Early in 2007, a chili pepper named Naga Jolokia scored over a million on the Scoville scale (1,001,300 su)! This pepper is literally “too hot to handle.”
However, in March of 2011 Guinness Book of World Records crowned a new king. The Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper smoked a 1,463,700 su. This is nearly a million Scoville units higher than the 1994 habanero. These numbers are like the national debt. They are so high the mind of an average person cannot comprehend them.
The term "hot" can be subjective, but here's a tip to turn the heat up or down. For maximum hotness, eat the entire pepper with seeds and pulp. To cool off your peppers, pick before ripe and remove seeds and pulp.
To cool off a burning mouth, try bread, pasta, potatoes or a banana. Dairy products contain a binding agent (or protein) called casein. This protein attaches to the capsaicin and prevents them from continuing to burn. Since capsaicin is an oil, it won't mix with water. Water may feel cool, but it won’t stop the burn.
Believe it or not, capsaicin's ability to cause pain makes it useful in alleviating pain. Continuous exposure to capsaicin lowers sensitivity to pain. It is sometimes used in the treatment of arthritis and other chronically painful conditions. For info on the heat (capsaicin), visit http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/macon/palette/060910.html If you do not have internet access then call the Extension Office at 893-7530 or email me at email@example.com
Despite popular belief the merciless peppers of Quitselzaca Tenongo are not the hottest peppers in world. While they took down the Pope of Chilli Town, Scorpion Butch T peppers are hotter. Quitselzaca Tenongo peppers are reportedly grown by inmates from a Guatemalan insane asylum. In contrast, the secret to the heat of Scorpion Butch T peppers is runoff from worm compost. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0APBemFGUdU
Gary Pierce is a Horticulture Agent at Harnett County Cooperative Extension. 910-893-7530 http://www.harnett.org/coop/horticulture-programs.asp