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What is the Scoville scale? – MasterChef SA

10 March 2022
Measuring heat.
masterchef sa season 4 episode 7 scoville scale

Image: Charlie Sperring

by Claudia Hauter

The latest episode of MasterChef SA was on fire! Not in the literal sense. The contestants weren’t flambéing their hair anymore, for one thing. Instead, the judges were spicing up the competition with a pressure test all about chillies.

While briefing the contestants, judge Justine Drake mentioned a scale: the Scoville scale. Just as the Richter scale measures the intensity (or magnitude) of an earthquake, the Scoville scale measures the intensity (or heat) of a chilli pepper. Capsaicin is the substance in peppers that produces heat, so by measuring the capsaicin you measure the heat. It even has units of measurement, known as Scoville Heat Units (SHUs). The scale runs from zero right into the millions.

Andriette was saddled with the hottest pepper of the lot. Habanero usually measures between 100 000 and 350 000 SHUs. The rest of the chillis were pretty mild in comparison, although bird’s eye and Thai green chillies can get pretty hot too. But hot or not, the challenge lies in how you use it. After all, Sims had one of the mildest of them all, the South African Peppadew®. While he didn’t blow the judges’ heads off with too much heat, the risks he took with his dish didn’t quite pay off either. You can't fault the intensity of his passion though. Check him out at 03:29.

What’s more, the Scoville scale is actually pretty subjective. If you don’t like chilli, even the sight of a Peppadew® could make you turn tail. And too much chilli can overpower other flavours and make most people’s mouths flame. That’s not to say you should ignore the Scoville scale. The Carolina Reaper is a pepper that measures 2.2 million SHUs. The difference in SHUs between habanero, bird’s eye, and Thai green chillies are pretty negligible so, as far as heat goes, you could argue that they’re interchangeable. But switch a habanero for a Carolina Reaper and there will be tears. Lots of tears, with a side of vomiting. With all those millions of SHUs, all the milk in the world isn’t going to stop the pain. It’s probably not even something Nando’s would dare use.

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Watch MasterChef SA every Monday to Thursday at 18:00 on M-Net channel 101.
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