Some chile peppers are too hot. Some are too mild. How do you find one that's just right for you?

Enter pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, circa 1912. While working on developing a capsaicin cream to soothe sore muscles, he became famous for creating the scale that rates the heat level of peppers.

Scoville Units are both scientific and subjective, ranking peppers based on the level of capsaicin and how much heat is perceived by you, the taster. Sweet bell peppers are at zero, jalapeños hit between 2,500 to 10,000 units, and habaneros rank high at 100,000 to 350,000 units.

Why the wide range? Stress. Chiles that grow in hot, dry climates are more stressed – and that means more heat. Cool, wet climates tend to produce milder peppers. Since you can't tell the heat level by looking at them, it's best to start with a small amount in your recipes and go from there.
Mini Sweet Peppers

Mini Sweet Bell

  • 0 on the Scoville Scale
  • Originated in Mexico, these are a type of chili pepper and one of the easiest to cultivate. The green Bell pepper is slightly sweet flavor while the red, yellow and orange varieties are the sweetest.

Anaheim Pepper

Anaheim

  • 500-2,500 Scovilles
  • Anaheims are famous for roasting. They got their name from Emilio Ortega, founder of Oretega Brands, who brought the peppers to the Anaheim area and started selling canned fire roasted peppers in 1897.

Poblano Pepper

Poblano/Pasilla

  • 1,000-2,000 Scoville Scale
  • Named after the Poblano people from Puebla, Mexico, this pepper is one of Mexico's favorites and is used in iconic dishes such as chile relleno.

Jalapeno Pepper

Jalapeño

  • 2,500-5,000 Scovilles
  • US Astronauts must have believed that the jalapeño's spicy taste was out of this world, as jalapeños were the first peppers to travel into space on a NASA shuttle.

Hungarian Wax Pepper

Yellow Hungarian Wax

  • 5,000-10,000 Scovilles
  • Yellow Hungarian Wax Peppers are so popular in Hungary that Hungarians often thread the peppers onto strings and hang them from balconies and walls.

Serrano Pepper

Serrano

  • 10,000-25,000 Scovilles
  • Serrano peppers are popularly used in salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole. The largest producers of Serrano Peppers in Mexico grow about 180,000 tons of peppers per year.

Milk

Handling the Heat

Don't reach for a glass of water or a cerveza (or a Margarita) to tame the flames when your mouth is on fire. Grab a glass of milk or scoop up some sour cream instead.

Capsaicin – found mainly in chile peppers’ ribs and seeds – is the culprit here. It clings to your mouth and makes you feel the burn. Clear liquids spread the heat around even more. Dairy foods contain casein – a protein that bonds with the hot stuff and helps neutralize it.

A few plain tortilla chips, bread, avocados, and peanut butter will also help put out the fire.