FOOD HISTORY: Scoville Units

Scoville units are measurements of the heat component (the chemical substance called, capsaicin) of dried Chile peppers. This system, was developed in 1912 by Wilber Lincoln Scoville, a chemist working for the Parke-davis Pharmaceutical Company. Scoville dissolved dried chiles in alcohol and made serial  dilutions of the alcoholic extract in sugar water (1:10, 1:100, 1:1000, etc). He had a group of tasters sip the various dilutions of alcoholic extracts of different Chiles.The dilution at which no sensation of heat was tasted by the panel was given the as the number of Scoville units associated with that particular Chile. The higher the number of Scoville units assigned to a Chile, the hotter that Chile was relative to other Chiles.Today, the capsaicin content of Chiles is measured using a modern technological technique, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, but the measurements are still given as Scoville units to honor Dr. Scoville.