Javier’s Levels Of Hotness

By Chad Olsen

hot chile


My friend Javier has a unique way to figure out the hotness of chili peppers. Before we get to that, a little background about chili peppers is needed. Wikipedia has a brief write up on this subject. Ushotstuff.com is also a good source. What makes chilies so hot is a substance called capsaicin (cap-say-ah-sin). This is a chemical compound that stimulates the nerve endings in the skin.

Back in 1912, American chemist Wilbur Scoville developed the Scoville Organoleptic Test to measure the hotness of chili peppers. The measurement is called Scoville Units. Chili hotness, stated in Scoville Units, is imprecise due to climate, soil, genetics, etc., but the ranking of peppers is fairly reliable. Here are a few that we are somewhat familiar with in Mexico:


          The Pepper                         Scoville Units

          Bell                                      0

          Sonora                                300-600

          Poblano                              1,000-2,000

          Jalapeno                             2,500-8,000

          Serrano                               8,000-22,000

          Chipotle                              10,000-25,000

          Tabasco                              30,000-50,000

          Habanero (orange)            100,000-325,000

          Scotch Bonnet                   150,000-325,000

          Habanero (red)                  350,000-580,000

The Red Habanero is the hottest pepper found around here, but the hottest in the world is the Naga Jolokia (India) at over 1,000,000 Scoville Units! Law enforcement pepper spray is over 5,000,000 Scoville Units! Now, I’m feeling sorry for those protesters that got their eyes intentionally sprayed while their eyelids were held open.

While downing a few shots of tequila with Javier at the Beer Saloon, I tried to educate him about the Scoville measurement of pepper hotness.

“No, my friend,” he says, “hotness must be experienced: not measured.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, “Tell me about it.”

“Well,” he says, “there are really six levels of hotness. The lowest is the fire you feel in your mouth and the numbness of your lips; like your dentist just gave you a shot.

“The second level is a glow on your face and ears; like what you see when you turn on the hot plate for your morning coffee.

“At the third level your scalp begins to sweat and tingle; like a thousand ants are crawling around.

“A ringing in your ears announces the fourth level; like the sound of one of those new-fangled electric alarm clocks.

“The fifth level is a sense of well-being; like that college weed you used to smoke. This can last for several hours.” He stopped at this point. I could tell that he wasn’t sure he should go on.

“But that is only five levels,” I complain, “You said there were six.”

“Yes, you are right,” he says, “but not many experience the sixth level. It requires eating a generous amount of the hottest pepper we have here in Mexico. “It is the out-of-body experience,” he says, as he looks to see if I am laughing,

“You begin to drift as light as a feather. You will be able to look down on your dinner companions. When this happens, you have experienced the sixth and highest level of hotness.”


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