How To Tell if a Sauce is REALLY Hot: Part 1

How To Tell if a Sauce is REALLY Hot: Part 1

Posted by Mary P on Sep 11th 2014

A lot of folks call us about different hot sauces asking, "How hot is it?” A seemingly simple question with a very elusive answer, which is why I’m breaking this blog up into 2 parts this week. In today’s blog, I’ll give you some info on why the Scoville Heat Scale is sometimes misleading. Tomorrow, I’ll share with you our idea for developing a new way to measure heat intensity of a hot sauce.

The reason why it’s so tough to explain how “hot” a hot sauce is to people is because there’s no true, universal “Hotness Scale.” Sure, we have the Scoville Heat Scale, which is what a lot of people use to measure spicy heat in pepper extract, but it’s really hard to measure heat between hot sauce brands because it’s just so subjective. Let me break it down for you:

When it comes down to it, Scoville heat units (SHU) are simply a dilution ratio.

Take a hot sauce with a rating of 500,000 SHU. That means that that a mixture made up of 1 part hot sauce with 500,000 parts water is as far as it can be diluted and still be detectable. So people say that a sauce with a rating of 700,000 SHU is hotter than one with a rating of 500,000 SHU because the 700,000 one can still be detected in a larger amount of water. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that something that is 500,000 SHU is twice the heat level of something that’s 250,000 SHU; the 500,000 SHU will just dilute out more times.

The issue with this is that you’re not diluting the sauce 700,000 times on your tongue when you taste it. For people, it’s a matter of how it hits and feels on the tongue. You know, I’ve tasted pure extract that didn't feel as hot as some sauces I’ve had that have no pepper extract. Which brings us to the next issue…

Not all sauces include pepper extract.

For consistency in their hot sauces, some manufacturers will add pepper extract in order to make sure that all bottles of those sauces will measure at the same SHU. Some hot sauces use only natural peppers rather than pepper extract, and the heat of those natural peppers may vary based on the individual peppers. A lot of times, hot sauces that don’t use the extract and only use the natural peppers cannot be accurately measured in SHU because it will vary based on the individual pepper. So how do you compare one hot sauce rated 1 million SHU with another that uses only natural peppers?

Check back tomorrow for the second half of the blog!