Some like it hot

Caliente 101: Know Thy Chile Pepper

What exactly is the Scoville scale?

By Timothy Malcolm July 14, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Shutterstock

The Scoville scale was created by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to measure the spice level of peppers, and though the method of testing them has changed (no more taste-testers; those poor sad saps), the Scoville ratings still ring true. There are five domesticated species of pepper and 50,000 varieties existing in the world today, and they can all be measured on the scale, from the bell pepper (0 Scoville Heat Units) to the unconfirmed Pepper X (3.18 million SHU). And all the usual suspects found in our favorite salsas around town? Yup, those too. Here, a guide to our cantina’s finest chile mainstays—the tastiest way to familiarize yourself with the Scoville scale.

Pepper Heat Index Disposition Find It Put It On Fear Factor

2,500-8,000 SHU

The jalapeño in its distinctively smoke-dried iteration

Blended into the Fuego salsa at Tacos A Go Go,

A barbacoa taco and you’re all set

Low—just a smoky, savory bite


3,500-8,000 SHU

The ubiquitous medium-sized, forest-green Mexican pepper

Blended into the iconic green salsa at the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, 

A fresh flour tortilla before filling it with beef fajitas and roasted vegetables

Low to medium—a light mouth burn

10,000-23,0000 SHU

 Looks like the jalapeño but smaller. Translation: hotter. Chopped and blended (seeds added last) into the Verde salsa at El Big Bad, The simple, cheesy quesadilla, while sipping a Don Julio marg Low to medium—a lingering mouth burn, but you’ll be just fine
Aji Amarillo

30,000-50,000 SHU

A pretty Peruvian pepper popping with pungent piquancy Blended smoothly in salsa aji amarillo at Peru Gourmet, A half rotisserie chicken with fries and a salad, a classic Peruvian meal Medium—catch your breath and let the heat pass. Don’t sweat, just keep cool

100,000-350,000 SHU

A tiny, powerful Amazonian wonder with a touch of sweetness

In the habanero salsa at Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen,

San Miguel chicken enchiladas with creamy cilantro-based suiza sauce

Medium to high—full blown lingering burn, and for some, sweat-inducing
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