Stuff You Missed in Botany: Scoville Scale

Stuff You Missed in Botany: Scoville Scale

Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on...”~Robert Palmer (via Duran Duran)

This pepper is hot. But what does that mean? Hot when it comes to the spiciness of a pepper is subjective, right? I mean, two serranos in a Thai stir-fry is approaching the right “heat” for my son, but has me running for the milk and an alternative meal. Subjective.

If only there were some way to quantify the spiciness of a pepper without relying on the conjecture of an individuals palate. Thank you Wilbur Scoville.

In 1912, Wilbur Scoville devised a method called the Scoville Organoleptic Test, giving us a scale that measures the capsaicinoid content of a substance. In other words, how “hot” something is depends on how much capsaicin is in it.


So, what’s not and what’s hot?

The scale is pretty straightforward. If a pepper has a lot of capsaicin, it’s hot. If it has less capsaicin, it’s mild. Here is a nicely colored picture available from

Scoville scale

Feel the heat, pushing you to decide. Feel the heat. Burning you up, ready or not” (more Duran Duran)

You Decide

Although the amount of capsaicin can be quantified thanks to our pharmacist friend Wilbur. How hot a dish is remains subjective. This is because of the tolerance of individuals to capsaicin.

Some people can tolerate, even enjoy pepper with 10-35,000 units like a Serrano or a Peter Pepper. Other people are uncomfortable above about 1,000 -2,500 units, or an Ancho pepper, with an occasional foray into the 3,500 range of the Jalepeño. If you like it, go for it.

Some Like It Hot*

So, you like it good and spicy? I’ve got the peppers for you. I have to talk about what to plant in your garden. These are fun to grow, beautiful and firecracker doesn’t come close to describing the heat. Screaming hot, Red Hot, Four Alarm hot? That’s getting close. Hot Paisley Peppers coming through!

Jamaican Hot Chocolate (Scoville 200,000-350,000)

Jamaican Hot Chocolate

These are delicious stuffed. Just be sure to have plenty of ice cold liquid refreshments handy. See recipe later.  These also make delicious hot sauce that is a  rich mahogany color. A little of this sauce goes a long way. For example, in my Red Beans and Rice recipe I substitute six drops of this sauce for one teaspoon of tabasco. That’s a potent pepper.

Cayenne Long Thin (30,000-50,000 on Scoville scale)

Cayenne Long Thin

A Louisiana staple. I think they wean their babies on these ; ) Another beautiful plant that is easy to grow, and just so so festive. This makes great tabasco sauce and pickled hot peppers. They can also be dried and powdered for chili powder. As with all the peppers in this section of text, precautions should be followed carefully to avoid discomfort.

White Hot Habanero (100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale)

White Hot Habanero

Also called Yucatan White Pepper

I am in love with this pepper because of it’s beauty and the because it affords me the opportunity to add heat without adding color. White Hot Chili, beautiful. White pepper sauce and even a white and black “Checkerboard” salsa. A very little goes a very long way to kick up any white hot dish. You can get these at Reimer seeds and at Whatcom.

All things in moderation. The medium hot peppers.


Many people think of the Jalepeño when they think of a spicy pepper. For some, even these are too “hot”. Stuffed with cheese and slathered in ranch dressing, they can be tamed to please most palates.

I grow four or five different plants of jalepeno varieties each year. I have my main three, Tam, El Jefe, and Jalapeño Hercules (red) then I add one or two new varieties just for fun. I’m always on the lookout for a “paisley” variety.

Last year I found these “black” jalapenos and they are fast becoming a family favorite. These are great in the black and white salad’s I make. Again, the plants are productive and gorgeous.

Black (Purple) Jalapeno

Finally for the tame tongues out there…

Pick a peck of these peppers to stuff, to salad, to savor. 300-1,000 on the scoville scale

Corno Di Toro Giallo and Corno Di Toro Rossa (Yellow and Red sweet banana peppers)

You can stuff these, pickle them or snack on them fresh from the garden.. Pretty…proper… peppers.









Red Cheese Pepper

These were once actually used to color cheese. Now they are great stuffed or in salads, easy to grow and pretty plants.

Tequila Sunrise:

This is a beautiful plant, beautiful pepper and makes a beautiful sauce. 


**Proper precautions include: gloves, eye protection and long sleeves when harvesting your peppers, pruning your pepper plants, and in the kitchen preparing recipes. Most peppers have a waxy or oily residue that contains capsaicin, it can burn your skin (especially in cuts or scratches) burn your eyes, and if you get this around your nose or lips can cause extreme discomfort.

This is nothing to mess with. Police pepper spray is made with this stuff. It’s used to detain criminals, disperse crowds and terrorize protesters, think about what it could do to you. (I was kidding about the protesters, but I’m not kidding about taking proper precautions.)


Roasted Pepper Mayonnaise

This recipe can use any of the peppers I have mentioned. Remember use precautions when using the hot peppers. Also, the hotter pepper you choose, the hotter your sauce is going to be. (Well, duh = )

  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lb red  peppers any peppers you choose, roast or grill peppers till tender The Tequila Sunrise pepper makes a beautiful sauce
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or to taste
  1. With garlic press, press garlic. Mix garlic and salt together.  Transfer to a blender with peppers. Purée until smooth. Add mayonnaise and juice and blend. Do not blend too long or it can get soupy. Just incorporate and plop it in a bowl.
This is great with french fries or as a sauce for chicken or steak. Also yummy on hamburgers.
I know I just gave salsa recipes, but I’m giving another anyway.

Habanero Fruit Salad

Habanero Mango Fruit Salad

  • 2 habanero peppers, diced
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, diced
  • 1 small mango, peeled and diced
  • 4 ounces fresh pineapple, chopped
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste
Okay it’s just a salsa recipe on steroids but if you love the heat, this brings it!
Straightforward, dice it all and mix it up. This is excellent on grilled chicken, fish, even steaks. We’ve had it on hamburgers and half of our family likes it on scrambled eggs.
Of course you can always tame it by switching up your peppers with one of the mortal heat varieties.

Volcanic Chicken Satay

For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds chicken tenders, cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • skewers for serving

For the marinade (I make this the night before we’re to have it, it let’s everyone get to know each other):

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 habanero peppers, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, roasted, stemmed and seeded (how to roast a chili pepper)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    • MARINADE: Sauté onion in olive oil about 5 minutes over medium heat.
    • Add minced garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir and remove from heat. Add to a mixing bowl.
    • To the bowl, add roasted poblano pepper, habanero peppers, ground ginger, turmeric, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
    • Add your chicken strips to the marinade and stir to coat.
    • Cover the bowl or transfer contents to a baggie and seal. Refrigerate about 4 hours, or overnight for more flavor.

Peanut Sauce: (Again, I like to make this the night before because I like a sauce that has worked out all it’s details and gotten in touch with it’s inner child)

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons red curry paste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • Salt to taste
    • PEANUT SAUCE: In a large pan, sauté onion in olive oil about 5 minutes over medium heat.
    • Add 2-3 teaspoons red curry paste and stir. Cook about 2 minutes.
    • Add 1/2 cup water and 1 tablespoon sugar. Bring to a boil and stir.
    • Add 1/2 cup peanut butter and whisk it together.
    • Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes.
    • Add more water at this point to achieve your desired consistency.
    • Add chicken into the sauce and cook about 5 minutes, or until chicken is warmed.
    • Remove from heat, then stir in lime juice and salt to taste.

For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds chicken tenders, cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • skewers for serving
    • CHICKEN: Heat a sauté pan to medium-high heat. Sear the chicken slices about 1 minute each side, then reduce heat to medium.
    • Add white wine to deglaze chicken, and cook about 5-6 more minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Set chicken aside.

    Volcanic Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

    My husband just told me I took a simple recipe and made it complicated. Let me see if I can clarify.

  1. Make up your marinade and peanut sauce the night before you plan to serve this.
  2. Day of service, marinade your chicken all day.
  3. Cook your chicken, serve with the sauce.

Okay, grumpy Gus editor said that made it clear.

Anyway you have it, make it a peppery paisley day!~KeriAnne



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