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What Makes Peppers Hot?

Ever wonder what makes the hot burning sensation in your mouth when you eat a pepper?  The heat sensation is caused by capsaicin, a colorless, odorless, oily chemical.  Sensory neurons are fooled into thinking your mouth is being burned or experiencing heat, even though no actual physical burning is happening.

So how do you measure this heat?  There is a scale to measure the hotness of a pepper.  The “Scoville Organoleptic Test”.  Developed by Wilbur Scoville, it measures hotness in multiples of 100 units.  The scale refers to the amount of sugar water is needed to dilute the pepper to the point that you don’t feel any heat.

Scoville Scale:

  • Bell Peppers: 0 Units
  • Jalapeno: 2500-8000 units
  • Cayenne: 30,000-50,000 units
  • Habanero: 350,000-577,000 units
  • Pure Capsaicin: 15,000,000-16,000,000 units

The majority of capsaicin is located in the the seeds of the pepper.  This is a defense mechanism that the plants use to keep fungus and bugs that would destroy the seeds.  But birds are not effected by capsaicin.  Birds also can’t chew the seeds, so the seeds pass through the birds with ample fertilizer to help the plant grow. Pretty clever.  Some folks even claim giving their hens peppers increases egg production!

So enjoy spicing up your food at the Scoville unit of your choice!  Make Food Happy!

 

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