How 'hot' is hot?
ORIGINS OF THE SCOVILLE SCALE
Dr. Wilbur Scoville asked the same question. And instead of twiddling his thumbs, aimlessly trying the world's most potently fiery foods, he devised a way to measure heat using capsaicin dilution.
His method, called the 'Scoville Organoleptic Test,' and developed in 1912, measures how much capcaisin is present in a given food. In the Scoville method, an alcohol extract of capsaicin oil from a dried pepper is added slowly to a solution of sugar in water until the "heat" is just detectable by a small panel of tasters. The degree of dilution gives its measure on the Scoville scale, meaning that a sweet bell pepper (containing no capsaicin) has a rating of zero whereas habaneros, for example, 200,000 or more, indicating that their extract must be diluted over 200,000 times before the capsaicin presence is undetectable.
Of course, there’s a flaw in ol’ Wilbur’s plan: the Scoville Organoleptic Test is imprecise because it relies on subjective taste! Still, we think it’s a pretty good idea, and it’s standard in the industry.