Sunday, September 05, 2021

History of Scoville Heat Unit (SHU)

Capsaicin is found in plants of the genus Capsicum—commonly known as chili peppers and is responsible for their burning hot taste. Hot peppers originated in South America, where they have been cultivated since 5500 B.C., and were introduced to Europe and Asia after discovery by Columbus.

Chemical heat is reported using Scoville heat units (SHU). The first test developed to measure pungency was the Scoville test, first developed in 1912 by American chemist Wilbur Scoville. It measures ‘heat’ as Scoville heat units (SHU) in a given dry weight of fruit tissue.

While working at Parke-Davis on their elixirs, Wilbur developed what was the first practical scale for measuring pungency, "spiciness" or "heat" in peppers, formally known as pepper piquancy. Peppers, specifically cayenne, were used frequently in pharmaceutical preparations.

In the Scoville Scale for rating the hotness of chili peppers, the hotness is related to the concentration of the compound capsaicin.

Wilbur Scoville presented a paper describing his “Scoville Organoleptic Test” in 1912. However, his connection to chili peppers extends well before that. Scoville had published the book The Art of Compounding in 1895.

His book makes one of the earliest mentions of milk as an antidote for pepper heat. Over ten years after the publication of this book, Scoville was hired by the pharmaceutical company Parke, Davis & Company.
History of Scoville Heat Unit (SHU)