A Guide to the Scoville Scale: The Hottest Peppers

A Guide to the Scoville Scale: The Hottest Peppers

Spice to a food lover is like jelly to peanut butter. A food lover will seek out the hottest of the hot and tempt their palates with a combination of texture, depth, heat, and even some sweat. When reviewing the Scoville Scale hottest pepper list, keep in the back of your mind which rankings you would be willing to try and which would send you packing. Remember, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen!

What Is the Scoville Scale?

A big round of applause to pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville! In 1912, he came up with the idea of measuring the levels of heat or spiciness in chili peppers. After beginning with a panel of tasters and utilizing his testing method, “Scoville Organoleptic Test,” the birth of the measurement Scoville Heat Units (SHU) emerged. The scale ranks peppers beginning at 0 SHU and into the millions, with 0 being absolutely no heat at all.

In the original testing method, Scoville made a mixture of ground peppers and sugar water, which the testers used. After each sip, he would dilute the mixture one droplet at a time and designate a number to the pepper. This number is the result of the dilutions required to defeat the heat.

The natural element found in peppers is pure capsaicin (16,000,000 SHU). A chemical reaction takes place in the capsaicin resulting in a pepper’s spice. In 1980, a better way to measure capsaicin concentrate (without a panel of testers) transpired, resulting in the peppers receiving the numbers that best represented their Scoville Heat Unit (SHU).

Let’s go through a quick guide on the popular peppers on the scale and see how they rank.


The easiest way to read the Scoville Scale is by starting at the bottom and working upwards. Bell peppers have a rank of 0 SHU because of their sweet offerings. And from there, the mild scale level ranges from 100-2,500 SHU.

  • Anaheim (500-1,000 SHU)
  • Poblano (1,000-2,000 SHU)
  • Guajillo (2,500-5,000 SHU)
  • Jalapeño (2,500-8,000 SHU)


Things begin to turn at the medium heat level. The average food enthusiast breaks a mild sweat or requests an extra beverage when confronted with this type of heat. This group of peppers ranges from 2,500-30,000 SHU. So, with the vastness of the ranking, we begin to open the tastebuds to varying ranges of depth and volume while still enjoying the spice.

  • Jalapeño (varying levels beginning at 2,500-8,000 SHU)
  • Hot Burrito Pepper (3,000-6,000 SHU)
  • Serrano (8,000-22,000 SHU)
  • Cayenne (30,000-50,000 SHU)


In the food world, there’s a rumor that a sip of milk can coat the tongue and cool the heat. Whether it works for you or not is probably dependent on the fire you eat. For a hot Scoville rank, maybe a few sips of milk are most appropriate.

The hot category has an extensive range of peppers and levels, beginning at 30,000-100,000 SHU.

  • Tabasco Hot Pepper (30,000-50,000 SHU)
  • Red Hot Chili Pepper (40,000-50,000 SHU)
  • Chile De Arbol (varying levels beginning at 15,000-65,000 SHU)
  • Thai Chili (50,000-100,000 SHU)


You could probably just call this range of ranking “extra hot” or “danger zone”—whichever your tastebuds prefer. This group of peppers requires more than a few sips of milk. Grab the half-gallon, some water, and maybe an extra snack to cleanse your palate after each bite.

The range levels are generally quite broad as they begin near 150,000 SHU and go up from there.

  • Habanero Hot Pepper (100,000-300,000 SHU)
  • Ghost Pepper (800,000-1,000,000 SHU)

Please note that any pepper with the name of Ghost will reside in the ‘danger zone’ with over 1,000,000 SHU levels. And the hottest pepper available is the Carolina Reaper, with a scorching SHU of 1,641,300 and beyond—best of luck!

Mexican Cooking Peppers

Mexican cuisine is full of aroma and strength. A key ingredient in many dishes is hot peppers. No matter what category they fall under on the Scoville Scale hottest pepper list, there is no denying that some of these dishes would not be the same without chili peppers of any SHU level.

One of the most common peppers found in Mexican cuisine is the jalapeño pepper. The SHU range is 2,500-8,000, and the level of heat you receive is solely dependent on the removal of the seeds and membranes inside the pepper. If you strip the pepper in its entirety, you may experience only 2,500 SHU, but leaving any of the guts intact may result in a SHU of closer to 8,000.

Take another step on the ladder, and you find the serrano pepper. It’s somewhat similar and close to a jalapeño, but different in that the serrano has a higher SHU level. As you cook a serrano, it loses some of its fire, making it a great addition to a grilled or sautéed recipe.

Lesser-Known Fire Hazards

While many can rattle off a list of familiar peppers found at the grocery store, a few peppers bring the heat without carrying a household name. Some of these may be good to try for diverse palates or those who love the adrenaline of taste-testing.

  • Manzano (12,000-30,000 SHU)
  • Datil (100,000-300,000 SHU)
  • New Mexico Scorpion (1,191,595 SHU)
  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (2,009,231 SHU)

Turn Up the Heat in Your Kitchen

A confidence booster in your cooking skills is understanding the Scoville Scale and how heat variations best apply to your recipes. Serving fire on a plate can take place at any time of day, so don’t hesitate to get creative with your peppers. To get started, consider an authentic Mexican hot salsa from Don Emilio and see where the flavors take you.

With all the work of Wilbur Scoville, we can confidently say that having a profound awareness of spice levels changes the way we cook and enjoy our foods. Now that we know what to look for and where to find it, we no longer have to blindly sample peppers and heat levels to find the right one. What’s your preferred SHU level, and how will you cook with it next time?

A Guide to the Scoville Scale: The Hottest Peppers