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|Scoville tests being replaced by chromatography|
Scoville units were named for pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who invented the measurement in 1912. Scoville tests are run using large dilution factors and finding the lowest concentration that a trained panel can detect.
Scoville tested peppers by soaking them in alcohol (capsaicin is alcohol-soluble) and adding increments of the alcohol solution to sweetened water. In the case of Japan chilies, it took sweetened water in volumes between 20,000 to 30,000 times the pepper extract before the pungency was barely discernible. So Scoville rated the Japan chilies 20,000-30,000 Scoville Heat Units. Zanzibar chilies were rated 40,000-50,000, and Mombasa chilies 50,000-100,000. Habanero peppers measure up to 350,000.
The scotch bonnet, a small, brilliant yellow pepper, is slightly cooler (about 100,000-250,000 Scoville units). Mild bells and sweet banana peppers are usually between 0 and 100 units. A single drop of capsaicin, diluted 100,000 times, can still raise a blister on the tongue of a taster. (One part per million is the equivalent of 15 Scoville units.)
This oral test is being replaced by high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), which eliminates differences between tasters. It has also increased the number of tests that can be done in a day. The Scoville method allowed only six samples a day to be run reliably through a taste panel, while HPLC can be used to test about 30 samples in eight hours. HPLC tests are expressed in ASTA (American Spice Trade Assn.) heat units and can be correlated to the Scoville figures. But CODEX standards are expressed in standard Scoville units.
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