Spicy food can be divisive. Some people love to douse hot sauce on every meal, while others find cabbage to be slightly too spicy. The key to cooking with spicy ingredients is knowing what you’re working with. Exactly how hot is that pepper you’re about to add, and what can you substitute if you want to turn up the heat? Here’s a closer look at a few common types of hot peppers, and how heat is measured.
What makes food spicy?
There are a few different types of spiciness. The heat in spicy peppers is caused by the chemical compound Capsaicin, which creates a pleasant burning sensation on the tongue. Horseradish and wasabi get their spice from a chemical known as TRPA1, which tends to create heat more in the nose and sinuses. Sichuan peppers get their numbing, tingling spice from a chemical known as hydroxy-alpha-sanshool. All of these chemical compounds create slightly different sensations, but they can all be referred to as spicy.
About Scoville heat units
The spiciness of chili peppers is measured using the Scoville scale. This scale calculates heat units based on the level of spicy chemicals concentrated in each pepper. The scale ranges from “non-pungent” at 0-700 Scoville Heat Units, to “very highly pungent” above 80,000 SHU. To get a better understanding of what this means, take a look at how these common peppers rank on the Scoville scale.
List of hot peppers
Jalapeños are considered a relatively mild pepper, ranking between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville Heat Units. If you’d like to turn down the heat when cooking with a Jalapeño, use a knife to remove the seeds and ribs inside the pepper before cooking.
Habenero peppers are extremely spicy, ranking between 100,000 and 350,000 SHU. If you’re brave enough to work with this pepper at home, be sure to wear gloves and be careful not to touch your skin.
Red Pepper flakes
Crushed red pepper flakes are a staple topping at pizzerias, and a common pantry ingredient. Although they can incorporate a mix of spicy red pepper, they’re primarily made up of cayenne peppers, which rank between 30,000 to 50,000 SHU.
Poblano peppers are pleasantly mild, which is why you’ll often see them whole, like in these stuffed peppers with feta cheese. They rank between 1,000 to 1,500 on the Scoville scale.
Ghost peppers are punishingly hot. When it comes to the Scoville Heat Units, they measure between 855,000 to over 1,000,000. Yikes! If you’re new to cooking with spicy ingredients, stay far, far away.