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Joseph Kaminski

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August 20, 2019

A Tribute to Wilbur Scoville: The Hottest Pepper in The World…

Wilbur Scoville, the pharmacist who researched peppers in order to put together the Scoville scale, was born on today’s date (January 22nd) in 1865. His empirical measurement system has been used, despite subjectivity, to categorize peppers. While Scoville himself would probably be astounded to know that he’s mostly remembered for his hot pepper experiment, he’s gone down in history as an important scientific breakthrough. Although Scoville was a pharmacist and not a chef, his research and practical work in laboratory settings has made an impact in cooking along with drug making corporations, such as Parke-Davis.

Scoville would definitely be astounded to know that so many peppers have been discovered and bred, taking the crown of the Hottest Pepper in the World, since his experiment took place in 1912. With scientific advancement and an increase in our awareness around the world, we’ve seen the top position change hands multiple times. When Scoville did his study in 1912, the hottest pepper in the world was the Red Savina pepper. This pepper remained at the very top, resting at about a minimum 350,000, for almost a hundred years. In 2007, however, it finally lost its crown.


A pile of Carolina Reapers, the current hottest pepper in the world.

The last 10 years has been really good for peppers, honestly. The infamous bhut jolokia (more commonly known as the ghost pepper) was the one to finally knock the Red Savina pepper from its throne. However, it was shortly lived. The ghost pepper was rated at more than one million Scoville heat units, a massive improvement from where the Red Savina was at.

In 2011, the Infinity chili stole the title from the ghost pepper. For two weeks in February 2011, the Infinity Chili held the title for the world’s hottest pepper with a Scoville scale rating of around 1,067,286 Scoville Heat Units. On February 25, of that same year, however, it was displaced by the Naga Viper pepper, which registered 1,382,118 SHU.

The Naga Viper pepper didn’t last long either, however. Despite their creators claiming that the Naga Viper was an “unstable three-way hybrid” produced from the Naga Morich, the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion, it only held the position as the number one hottest pepper in the world for a year. In 2012, it was dethroned by the Trinidad moruga scorpion (which was classified at an astonishing heat of (at its max) over 2 million SHU.

You’d think that’s insane, but the Trinidad moruga scorpion didn’t last long either. In 2013, it was overthrown by the Carolina Reaper. The Carolina Reaper, a breed of the ghost pepper and the red habanero, has remained the hottest pepper ever since.

So, needless to say, we saw major spikes in the world of heat.

The Scoville Scale

Scoville heat units Name of pepper
1,600,000 – 2,200,000 Carolina Reaper
855,000 – 1,600,000 Komodo Dragon Chili Pepper, Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Naga Viper pepper, Infinity Chilli,Naga Morich, Bhut Jolokia (ghost pepper), Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper
350,000 – 855,000 Red Savina habanero
100,000 – 350,000 Habanero chili, Scotch bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto, Madame Jeanette
100,000 – 225,000 Bird’s eye chili
50,000 – 100,000 Byadgi chilli, Malagueta pepper, Chiltepin pepper, Piri piri, Pequin pepper, Siling Labuyo
30,000 – 50,000 Guntur chilli, Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper, Tabasco pepper, Capsicum chinense
10,000 – 23,000 Serrano pepper, Peter pepper, Chile de árbol, Aleppo pepper, Chungyang Red Pepper,Peperoncino
3,500 – 10,000 Jalapeño, Guajillo pepper, Espelette pepper, Fresno pepper,
1,000 – 4,000 Gochujang, Pasilla pepper, Peppadew, poblano, Rocotillo pepper
100 – 900 Banana pepper, Cubanelle, Paprika, Pimento
0 Bell pepper
The Scoville Scale

The Scoville Scale

So, happy birthday to the man who created the scale we’ve been using to categorize just how spicy peppers are. As a fan of anything spicy, I can personally appreciate it. I do remember in 2013 when the Carolina Reaper was crowned the hottest pepper in the world. A kid brought a bag of ghost peppers to school. He had ordered dried ones, planting the seeds and waiting for them to grow so that he could bring them to school. The peppers had rubbery, dimpled skin, and some kids were literally afraid to even touch them.

He was so proud of himself, claiming that he had in his hands “the hottest pepper on earth.” Of course, he was wrong. This was only a few days before the crowning of the Carolina Reaper. But even so, the ghost pepper had not been the hottest since 2011.

I tried one. It didn’t affect me as much as it did some of the others. My lips got numb, One kid threw up, crouching over one of those 25 gallon trashcans outside the gymnasium lobby. Of course, people got mad. The peppers were taken away from the kid, and he got yelled at for bringing them.

The kid’s reaction? He dared administration to show the exact line in the code of conduct which prevented him from bringing ghost peppers to school. They backed down, and he didn’t get written up. He didn’t get the peppers back, though.

I wonder if that kid’s heard of the Carolina Reaper since then. It’s been almost three years since this happened, after all. Could you imagine what Wilbur Scoville would say if he knew of the Carolina Reaper? After all, it’s been 104 years since his experiment crowned a different pepper as the hottest in the world.

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