The Scoville scale is made to measure the heat of peppers. Since wasabi is a root of the wasabi plant, it doesn’t technically place on the Scoville scale. However, there is a pepper similar in heat that can help us estimate where wasabi would place on the Scoville scale.
Experts agree that wasabi is about as hot as a jalapeno pepper. This would place it in the lower range on the scale at around 2,500-8,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). Technically though, wasabi would be a zero on the Scoville scale, if not for its pepper-adjacent comparison.
Continue reading for more information on the spicy Scoville scale.
What is the Scoville Scale?
The Scoville scale was invented in 1912 by Albert Scoville. It measures the amount of capsaicin in a pepper, which is reflective of how spicy the pepper is. Capsaicin is a compound in the fruits of the Capsicum family. These are what we know as peppers. The sample must contain the capsaicin compound to be on the Scoville scale.
This quantitative measurement rather than qualitative measurement has given rise to hot pepper rankings, contests, and challenges. The scale starts at zero, which is reflective of the heat in a bell pepper (non-existent), and goes up to 16,000,000 SHU, which is the heat of pure capsaicin. At moderate levels of heat, people report feelings of euphoria. This is due to the release of endorphins because your body mistakes the heat from the pepper for pain.
How Can You Measure Capsaicin?
To measure capsaicin the sample must go through a process called high-performance liquid chromatography. This process pumps pressurized liquid containing the sample through a column that separates the sample into individual parts. Capsaicin is isolated and then measured and converted into a value on the Scoville scale.
Why Isn’t Wasabi on the Scoville Scale?
Since the Scoville scale is based on capsaicin, that means the sample must contain the spicy compound. The only fruits containing capsaicin are peppers, and since wasabi isn’t a pepper, it isn’t technically measurable on the Scoville scale. The wasabi plant is a member of the Brassica family, which includes brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard, and broccoli. These plants might have a pungent spice to them, but it is not the same chemical that gives peppers their kick.
Wasabi also gives a different kind of heat sensation than peppers, which is another reason why it’s not exactly a fair comparison to a jalapeno. Wasabi tends to be a much shorter-lasting, but punchy, heat to the nose and sinuses. Pepper heat tends to build and primarily affects the tongue and lips.
How Hot is the Hottest Food on the Scoville Scale?
The hottest pepper on the Scoville scale is the Carolina Reaper. It peaks at around 2.2 million SHU with an average of 1,641,000 SHU in a pepper. This is in the “dangerous” area of the scale wherein you can experience adverse effects from the large dose of capsaicin. Such effects can include nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea.
There is a compound that far exceeds the 16 million SHU of the Carolina Reaper, though it’s not a food item. This compound is “resiniferatoxin”. It is present in the latex exudate of a succulent species Euphorbia resinifera. This compound could be useful in managing severe pain. It is several thousand times hotter than the hottest thing on the Scoville scale, at 15 billion SHU.
What Are Other Applications of Capsaicin?
Capsaicin isn’t just for spice junkies and hot sauce lovers. There are medical applications for capsaicin too! Icy Hot utilizes the heat generated from this chemical to help soothe sore muscles and can also aid in soothing arthritis-related pain. However, if you have an allergy to peppers or capsaicin itself, these medications can trigger an allergic reaction. Capsaicin also has applications in aiding those with neuralgia, or nerve pain. The aforementioned resiniferatoxin might be useful in aiding cancer patients with extreme pain.
Though not on the Scoville scale, the compound found in wasabi, allyl isothiocyanate, might show some promise in anti-cancer activity. However, it’s not actively being employed in medical treatments in the same way capsaicin is.
Eating spicy foods can also have some health benefits. The endorphin release triggered by eating spicy food can reduce the risk of depressive and anxious feelings. Additionally, spicy foods like hot sauces and hot peppers can decrease the levels of bad cholesterol and signs of inflammation. There are even studies suggesting that eating spicy foods can increase your metabolism and reduce the number of calories eaten per meal when there are capsaicin-containing foods involved. Doesn’t this make you want to eat some hot peppers?
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Adrian_am13/Shutterstock.com
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