The Scoville Scale: Where We Fall
Just as the Richter scale measures the power of earthquakes, the Scoville scale tells us the intensity we can expect from hot peppers we use in sauces and recipes. Invented by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 and formally known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test, the scale measures the amount of capsaicin in a pepper, with levels ranging from zero up into the millions. Capsaicin is the naturally occuring chemical that gives peppers their “heat,” along with the mouth-searing, eye-watering sensation that some foodies love and others avoid. With great power comes great responsibility, and Corine’s Cuisine sauces use capsaicin as a force for good, bringing the punch of spicy heat to your plate while enhancing flavor.
Corine’s approach to spice in her pepper-based sauces is that the “heat” must always work in a balance with the other natural ingredients. A pepper that overwhelms the palate with loads of capsaicin won’t play well with other parts of the sauce or with the food on your plate. That’s why Corine prefers the Scotch bonnet pepper, popular in the West Indies for imparting real heat to dishes like poulet colombo, conch stew and curried goat. The Scotch bonnet’s advantage lies in heat that comes on strong but is then smoothed and balanced by a round, almost fruity flavor. Unlike some peppers popular in the hot-sauce world today, Scotch bonnets don’t blast your tastebuds numb, but instead add both heat and flavor to your dish.
So where does Corine’s favorite pepper score on the Scoville scale? The answer isn’t always as simple as clear number, because the way a pepper is used in a sauce and in cooking can accentuate or smooth out its capsaicin. It’s good to consider a pepper’s rating as measurement of potential, a theoritical average that will show quite a bit of variation when it meets the reality of sweet corn chowder in a bowl or a mahi filet in the oven. To give a point of reference, the pepper with the lowest score on the Scoville scale is the common bell pepper, with a score of 0 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). Another familiar pepper, the jalapeño, scores between 3,500 and 10,000 SHU. Cayenne pepper, which we typically see more in ground form than fresh, is a little higher on the scale with a score of 30,000-50,000 SHU.
The Scotch bonnet pepper is the main ingredient of Corine’s Cuisine Sauces 3, 10 and 23, and it also brings a little spice to Sauce 28, the Asian BBQ/Stir-fry sauce. In Sauce 23, it’s the diva in the starring role, with fresh Scotch bonnets going from whole to chopped to in-the-jar so fast that they retain stunning amounts of the pepper’s natural capsaicin, flavor and color. In sauces 3 and 10, the peppers are pickled, which gives them a more traditional smoky flavor and makes them a perfect background for the flavors of other ingredients like Jamaican curry and turmeric. The secret to the Scotch bonnet’s versatility is a just-right Scoville score of 100,000-350,000 SHU. This level puts it in the same range as the popular but less complex habanero chili, and keeps it well below the mouth-scorching power of the ghost pepper, the Trinidad scorpion, and the infamous Carolina reaper (all averaging over 1,500,000 SHU).
When it comes to heat level, you’ve got to get it just right. Too little and you’re missing a meal’s potential for the delicious interplay of complex flavors. Too much and you run the risk of overpowering the subtleties that can make a recipe great. With Corine’s Cuisine sauces on your kitchen counter, by the barbecue and on the table, you’re bringing the perfect balance of spice and flavor to every meal.