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Scoville Scale – How the heat in peppers is measured

Aged Hot Sauce, scotch bonnet hot sauce, best hot sauce uk, home made hot sauce
Hot Sauce Scoville Scale
Ghost Pepper Image by jim CARNAHAN from Pixabay

In around 1912 Wilbur Scoville a chemist working for Parke Davis a US pharmaceutical company, designed a way to show the heat delivered by different peppers. He created a method (  “Scoville Organoleptic Test” ) to judge heat of peppers by diluting them until the affects were no longer noticeable, and then measuring how much dilution he used. He is also the first person to point out that milk mollifies the heat. He won numerous awards for his work. Based on that test pure Capsaicin the actual substance within peppers that causes the burn is 16m units and a bell pepper or sweet pepper is 0. The pepper in the image above is the ghost pepper from India with 1m units. See more information at LINK

A recently published report by Harvard University about the origin of heat in peppers throws light on the origin of hot sauce scoville scale heat.

It amazed me that all the pepper lovers in the world only got what they love, by a tiny change that a primitive early ancestor of peppers made to protect itself from attack by predators.

Capsaicin – the basis of Hot Sauce Scoville Scale

It seems that there are two factors at work in the make up of the peppers chemistry, one is that rodents eat peppers and love them and they have such fine teeth they eat the seeds to the point they cannot germinate whereas birds eat the flesh and drop the seeds. So the plant developed a small metabolic change to create capsaicin the heat in peppers as the birds don’t taste the heat but rats do, so this deterred the rats. Pepper plants are also attacked by insects that suck the juices, and this defence also deters them.

The second is mould. Now peppers grow in moist environments and are very prone to mould and fungus, which attacks the buds and stops the peppers growing. Capsaicin deters mould and fungus so stops that attack as well. At Ooft! we notice this as when we age our peppers over two to three years, not only do we notice no deterioration, but laboratory analysis confirms that the peppers stay pure which explains our two year shelf life.

The article points out that the peppers pay a price for the defence. Producing the complex molecules for heat weakens the plants water retention capability and pepper plants with heat are much less resistant to drought than sweet peppers. Its a trade off they have made over time, but are we not so grateful. Without this development we would not have our hot sauce scoville scale.

Our thoughts on Heat from Peppers

LINK TO ARTICLE on how peppers protect themselves from attack.

Many chilli sauces boast of their heat but here at Ooft! we do not join that crowd at all. Our sauce is around 300,000 units on the Hot Sauce Scoville Scale but what we curate and care about is the flavour, the fruity unique taste of the scotch bonnet pepper. Although the scale is useful as a crude gauge it is meaningless when applied to individuals. So for one person 5,000 units of a Jalapeno might cause them to sneeze and their eyes to run for another it’s just not hot. Everyone has different tolerances. Thrill List a blog gives a nice glimpse into this world of chilli eaters LINK

To try our pepper sauces and get not just the burn but also the aged rich taste of the worlds finest chilli’s click below to buy

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Extreme Hot Sauce using Carolina Reaper – Dangerously Hot

Extreme hot sauces - Carolina Reaper

Extreme Hot Sauces

Extreme hot sauce are we going too far? In a report on the BBC in April a man ate a Carolina Reaper pepper and ended up in hospital with a massive migraine. Doctors seem to think the pepper constricted the blood to his brain. LINK to story on BBC.

How did we get here? Well starting with Tabasco people have loved hot sauce for over 100 years. In the Caribbean hot sauce or pepper sauce is used daily on almost all meals. In fact as I often tell people on farmers markets if you go into KFC or Pizza Hut in Trinidad they offer you three sauces, ketchup, mustard and hot sauce all in sachets. Hot peppers are grown all over the Caribbean the most popular being scotch bonnet which we use in our Ooft! Aged Hot Sauce.

A Developing Story

So farmers noticed over time natural hybrids and began to name them, so in Trinidad there was a kind of blistery looking pepper and boy it was hot so they called it 3 pot as it could be used three times “in the pot”. So to get this, cooks in Trinidad pop a whole pepper into a stew or soup to add flavour. If it doesn’t burst then its mostly flavour with a little heat. So a 3 pot could be retrieved and used again. Later another farmer found an even hotter and named it 5 pot and later still a hotter named 7 pot. One farmer found a variety growing with a tail  and named it Scorpion as that’s what it looked like. After all the scotch bonnet got its name because it looked like a tam o’ shanter hat.

Scientists and Carolina Reaper

Now we move to the technicians, people who breed plants and hybridize them. In Carolina a man hybridised a pepper plant and got an amazingly hot pepper and called it Carolina Reaper and that’s the one that caused all the headaches! In fact it looks a lot like a Trinidad Scorpion, but then they all come from the same stock. LINK to The man who developed this hybrid

Carolina Reaper
Carolina Reaper

Our Opinion

What does Ooft! think of all this? Well we don’t follow fashion. Our sauce is based on scotch bonnets slow aged to develop flavour not heat. Yes its a hot sauce but chasing the heat for us misses the point. Hot sauce is not just heat its taste and we have tried so many other peppers to make a different sauce and just cannot match the taste of scotch bonnets. On your table you want salt and pepper and hot sauce, not a sauce that will give you a headache, but a sauce that will improve your food and make it come alive.

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Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce – what is a bonnet?

Early 1900's womens Tam
scotch bonnet hot sauce – tam o shanter hats

Scotch Bonnet

We make scotch bonnet hot sauce. You can buy a bottle by clicking this link.  A lot of people like the flavour but have you wondered where the name comes from? The Scotch Bonnet supposedly comes from the Tam O Shanter. But I wonder whether a Scottish woman in the Caribbean, or more likely a soldier.  See the examples and what do you think? Whether a lady from a ship or a soldier passing by, some old market lady, maybe in Jamaica, saw the hat and exclaimed, “that looks just like my peppers” and off we go into the present and the wonderful fragrant  peppers we use exclusively in our Hot Sauce.

I have done a bit of research but the origin seems lost in time. My own view is a soldier, but I must admit the images of ladies hats looks closer.  We have tried so many other peppers and just cannot get the flavour we want from any other. Scotch Bonnet are a cousin or part of the group Habanero an pepper grown in the Caribbean but also in Africa and India. They are high in heat with a Scoville rating of about 250,000.

Scotch Bonnet hot sauce and peppers
Scotch Bonnet hot sauce and peppers