As a lover of exotic and spicy foods, I took it upon myself during my last market visit to purchase a variety of spicy peppers to see how I can put them to use. I ended up buying about 8 different kinds of peppers, some that I had never even heard of before. 

My friends and I tried each of them to see which of us could handle the heat, and it got me to wonder: What are all of the different varieties of spicy peppers available at the market, and where do they fall on the Scoville Scale? 

The History of the Scoville Scale

The Scoville Scale, created to rate the heat of chili peppers, was created by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Scoville held an experiment where he asked participants to taste each pepper, ground up and diluted with sugar and water. 

Each participant sipped each sugar-water pepper concoction, and reported how hot each pepper was. Scolville would continuously dilute each one until the heat was completely diminished by the sugar and water. This way, he could depict which peppers were the spiciest depending on the amount of dilution each pepper required to totally eliminate their spice. 

Since everyone has different tolerance-levels of spice, the Scoville Test is considered to be more subjective depending on the individual. 

Today, we have even more advanced forms of rating heat. A more modern method of testing the spiciness of hot peppers is the use of HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography). This type of test is considered to be the most accurate method in determining the amount of capsaicinoids (the pepper’s spicy component) that are present. 

Since HPLC is a very complex and expensive process, I will be returning to the Scoville Scale to depict just how hot the peppers available at the market are. 

The Science Behind Spice

As mentioned before, spice is considered to be a subjective concept, since everyone’s tolerance levels vary. What’s even more interesting is how spice affects the human body, and what chemicals are produced during the process of eating something extremely spicy. 

The chemical responsible for the spicy sensation is called Capsaicin. According to NOVA, “Capsaicin is the chemical responsible for the “heat” in chili peppers. Like many over-the-counter muscle rubs—think “IcyHot”—capsaicin can bring on both tingling sensitivity and numbness” (NOVA, 2021). 

One common misconception about spicy peppers is that the capsaicin is held within the seeds, making the seeds the spiciest part of the pepper, when in fact it’s the placenta, the membrane surrounding the seeds, that carries the heat. 

Photo Via Birdhouse Chillies

So what exactly happens to our bodies when we encounter the heat? When in contact with capsaicin, our nervous systems send out responses that activate our senses of touch and smell. 

The receptors that block topical pain signal to you that you are being burned when eating a spicy pepper, altering and heightening the sensitivity of your taste buds and the sensations in your mouth.

If not careful, peppers that fall at the top of the Scoville Scale can actually cause bodily harm. Since capsaicin is considered to be toxic (mildly – meaning it’s dangerous to be consumed in massive quantities), it’s important to limit the amount of spice you are subjecting yourself to.

There have been hospital cases of individuals who consumed an entire Carolina Reaper pepper, considered to be the spiciest pepper in the world, where people required a complete flushing of capsaicin from their bodies because the pepper caused severe reactions like severe head pain, along with fever, blurred vision, and in rare cases, even seizures. 

That being said, it’s best to utilize the spiciest peppers in small amounts to add just the right amount of kick to your food.

Spicy Peppers at the Market

Luckily for us Ohioans, there is a large variety of spicy peppers that grow well in our soil. In fact, there are several varieties of peppers that are either in-season or about to be in-season that are available at our Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow. 

After inquiring with different vendors about what spicy peppers we can hope to see at the market, here’s a Scoville Scale ranking their spiciness: 

*Note some peppers are still in the harvesting process. 

The vendors that currently have spicy peppers available at Countryside Farmers’ Market at Howe Meadow are Ash Creek Farm & Bread, Rainbow Gardens, Mud Run Farm, and Infinite Garden Farm. Ask these vendors which spicy pepper is right for you at your next visit to the market! 

Sources:

https://www.chilipeppermadness.com/frequently-asked-questions/the-scoville-scale/

https://www.chromatographytoday.com/news/hplc-uhplc/31/breaking-news/some-like-it-hot-how-to-measure-a-chillirsquos-heat/31958

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/capsaicin-chili-peppers-physiological-effects/

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