Spicy, spicy hot or blistering warm, learning how the hot sauce rating system works allows you to choose the hot sauce that is right for your tastes. Hot sauces are rated using the Scoville scale that was first developed in 1912 by a pharmacist who was curious about the heat factor of peppers.
Wilber Scoville developed a technique that measured how hot peppers were by using extracts that were then subjected to other chemicals. This hot sauce rating method did not work as well as he thought as the quantity of capsaicin was so small that the samples would not register. Scoville tried touching a drop of the sample pepper on his tongue after soaking a pepper in alcohol overnight then added in carefully controlled increments to sugar water until the pepper's heat was detected. Using a numerical equation that listed the numeral 1 for the pepper extract and the second numeral which was the amount of sugar water which for a bell pepper is the numeral 0 the Scoville scale was created.
Today, machines are replacing the human tongue as the tongue after exposure to more than six samples become numb to the heat of any pepper. High Pressure Liquid Chromatograph is a very sensitive machine that can compare thirty samples in an hour and when a machine is used determining the price for peppers which increases as their Scoville rating does is no longer subject to human taste buds. The Scoville hot sauce rating is so common that the High Pressure Liquid Chromatograph results are converted into Scoville ratings instead of the American Spice Trade Association's acronym, ASTA units.
Peppers are members of the Capsicum family of plants and all of these plants contain chemicals that stimulate the nerve endings in the skin especially the taste buds. Growing conditions, country of origin and season these plants are grown can affect the capsaicin content that is compensated for by a range of Scoville Heat Units. Bell peppers, Pimento, and Sweet Banana peppers have a Scoville rating of zero to 100 while Chipotle, Jalapeno and Poblano peppers are listed as having a heat rating of 2,500 to 5,000. The hotter the pepper's Scoville rating the more valuable and costly hot sauces created with that pepper will be.
Extremely hot sauce made with peppers that are listed in the one million plus heat units are often only available as extracts and others may only contain pepper extract and vegetable oil. Blair's Ultra Death hot sauce has a Scoville Heat Unit rating of 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 rating while Blair's 16 Million Hot Sauce and pure capsaicin crystals have a SHU rating of 15,000,000 to 16,000,000 and to purchase these the buyer must be able to prove they are over the age of 18.
To help put these SHU numbers into perspective the capsaicin pepper sprays carried by law enforcement officers ranges in heat from 2,500,000 units to 5,300,000 units. It is interesting to note that some people who consume hot sauces are can be less affected by law enforcement pepper sprays and those living in hot climates consume hot peppers and hot sauces to help keep them cool as the body's normal response to hot sauces and peppers is to sweat.
Low and medium Scoville rated hot sauces can be flavorful as well as warm and combining various peppers with similar SHU ratings provides a range of flavors without increasing the heat value.
Knowing the hot sauce rating before buying a sauce to heat up chili, barbecued meats and to add to your favorite dishes may help you choose the sauce that is right for you.