The Secret To Cooking With Hot Peppers

Many of us love to add hot peppers to our recipes. But how many times have we added too much or learned the hard way that a particular pepper was simply too hot?

hot red peppers ina earthen bowl on rustic and aged wood table
There are few solutions other than to dilute your perfectly crafted dish or start over. If this has ever happened to you, there is a better solution. However, it will require a calculator and a bit of food-science.

To begin with, you need to understand the variety of pepper you are using and its Scoville rating The Scoville scale identifies the approximate heat of a pepper as measured in Scoville units.

Here’s a quick recap of many popular peppers and their Scoville ratings:

  • Sweet Bell Pepper 0
  • Sweet Banana 0
  • Cherry Pepper 100 – 500
  • Pepperoncini 100 – 500
  • Anaheim 500 – 1,000
  • Poblano 1,000 – 2,000
  • Ancho 1,000 – 2,000
  • Pasilla 1,000 – 2,500
  • Jalapeno 2,500 – 5,000
  • Guajillo 2,500 – 5,000
  • Chipotle 5,000 – 8,000
  • Hot Wax 5,000 – 10,000
  • Serrano 5,000 – 25,000
  • De Arbol 15,000 – 30,000
  • Tabasco 30,000 – 50,000
  • Cayenne 30,000 – 50,000
  • Santaka 45,000 – 60,000
  • Chiltecpin 60,000 – 85,000
  • Thai 50,000 – 100,000
  • Bahamian 95,000 – 110,000
  • Jamaican Hot 100,000 – 200,000
  • Habanero 100,000 – 325,000
  • Scotch Bonnet Habanero 150,000 – 325,000
  • Red Savina Habanero 300,000 – 570,000
  • Ghost Pepper 1,000,000 to 1,300,000
  • Pure Capsaicin 15,000,000 – 16,000,000

What you’re about to do is give your recipe an overall Scoville rating. This is based on the assumption that you are using one level teaspoon of mashed pepper and one quart of all other ingredients.

It’s important that you mash the pepper with a spoon on a cutting board or in a food processor.

Diced chunks tend to concentrate the heat in varying levels from one bite to the next. If you like to see chunks of peppers in your recipe, use some of the peppers with lower Scoville ratings and use the higher ratings to mash and add some bite to your meal.

You can use the following mathematical formula to determine the Scoville rating of your recipe. Here’s the magic formula and the translation assuming you are spicing one quart of ingredients.

1(sr) ÷ 192 = RSR
1 = One level teaspoon of a specific pepper
sr = Scoville rating
192 = number of teaspoons in a quart
RSR = Recipe Scoville Rating

For example. If you add one level teaspoon of mashed Jalapeno peppers with a Scoville rating of 3,000 to one quart of chili your equation looks like this:

1 x 3,000 ÷ 192 = 15.625 RSR

In other words, you have a Scoville rating for your chili of about 15 and a half. If you want to raise the Scoville rating you can either increase the proportion of mashed Jalapenos a teaspoon at a time or use a pepper with a higher Scoville rating.

For instance, 2 level teaspoons of mashed Jalapeno would result in:
2 x 3,000 ÷ 192 = 31.25 RSR

Assuming one quart of recipe ingredients, use the Scoville ratings and the equation to produce the relative heat you like. You can always vary the amount of peppers to equal the desired heat for a certain RSR. You may have to if you only have one variety of fresh pepper available to you.

You can also mix and match peppers and for the first time actually compute the heat level that will result. Just make sure you track the Scoville ratings and number of teaspoons and add them to your equation.

If you are making more than one quart just remember that there are 48 teaspoons in a cup and four cups in a quart giving you 192 teaspoons. Multiply the proportionate amount of peppers and Scoville rating assuming 48 teaspoons to each cup to adjust the equation. Here are some examples for varying sizes of liquid measures :

  • 1 cup: (The Scoville rating of one level tsp. mashed pepper) ÷ 48 = RSR
  • 1 quart: (The SR of one level tsp. mashed pepper) ÷ 192 = RSR
  • 2 quarts: (SR of one tsp. masked pepper) ÷ 384 = RSR
  • 1 gallon: (SR of one tsp. masked pepper) ÷ 768 = RSR

different types of hot peppers on a bamboo mat

It’s wise to add some of the liquid from your recipe to a cup and mix the mashed pepper to make a slurry. Add this to the recipe, stir well and simmer a bit and taste.

Taste as you go and add more if you like, but always record the pepper’s Scoville rating ; the equation and the number of teaspoons of mashed pepper. In no time you’ll have recipes with the perfect proportions written down to suit you and your family’s tastes every time.

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About Lynne Jaques

Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!

30 thoughts on “The Secret To Cooking With Hot Peppers”

  1. I sauteed some hot peppers yesterday with onions and green peppers, to throw in a pasta dish. It toned down the spice and worked very well!

  2. When I use spicy ingredients in a dish, I always include a cream sauce to tone down the spiciness. Earlier this year, I used a lot of Chili, Chipotle and Cayenne peppers, in every meal because we were working on a weight loss regime. It may have worked for my weight loss routine at the time because I was desperate to lose a few pounds before a surgery. But,

  3. Thank you for taking the mystery out of scoville ratings. I’ve read about them before but didn’t really understand where certain peppers fell on the scale. I love cooking with different varieties but I tend to stick to the same kind. A goal of mine is to branch out more. This list will certainly help!

  4. This pepper guide is so useful! I have a very sensitive tongue, so while I like the taste peppers can give to dishes, I don’t like the heat of most of them. It is great to know how to determine not only how hot the peppers are, but how hot the dish will be. Wonderful tips and tricks.

  5. The red peppers on the first presentation picture sure do look inviting but i have my own reservations on using peppers, if i really must use them, then a whole carton of yoghurt must be present….to cool down a hot fiery furnace!…another thing, is it just me or green peppers are much hotter than red peppers? I must say, the Scoville ratings have caught my eye, they will be relied upon next time am busy chopping up peppers in the kitchen.

  6. I’ve always wanted to use peppers in my cooking, especially the ‘hot’ variety, but I’ve always been afraid. Seeing the title of your article, my attention was immediately caught.

    I have to admit halfway through it, my brain started to fog. Sorry, but math is not my strongest point, and seeing all those numbers suddenly made me feel more intimidated. Stil, I was able to grasp the concept of the Scoville scale and had taken note of the rating of some peppers commonly available area.

    Maybe in time, I’ll overcome my trepidation and be more adventurous in adding different peppers in my dishes.

  7. Chillies are a great added value to a meal. That amount of heat that it brings to a dish emphasises the other flavours. Here in Chile, I discovered some amazing variety of chilli, one in particular is “aji ahumado” smoked dried chilli and it has a very particular taste. Furthermore, there is the chilli powder called merken which is a mix of grounded chilli powder and coriander seeds, which is a very interesting spice which you can try to make at home if you find the ingredients in a shop close to you.
    It’s a great alternative to curry powder.

  8. I really appreciate you writing this post! I have always wanted a go to guide for the peppers I end up buying! I wish I could have read this sooner. My first time dealing with hot peppers, I hadn’t put any gloves on and I was cutting them up like they were normal peppers… Well was that ever a mistake! My hands were burning and felt like they were on fire for a whole 48 hours. Never again! Although,It hasn’t stopped me from using them yet!

  9. Pepper is certainly an element of cooking that should be used in moderation. You don’t want too much of it to make eating an agony and you don’t want too little of it because it helps give the taste a much needed lift. Hot peppers are not something I cut up too often though. They’re just way too hot. I can’t deal with them, but these are some good tips to follow when using them.

  10. I’m so glad you did this! I recently acquired some habanero peppers from a friend’s garden, but I have been too afraid to use them. I think they add such a nice flavor, but it can be risky. Sometimes the dish comes out tasting great, and other times it feels like you are going to die. Now I know why!

    • Not even yoghurt or real ice cold water can calm down the furnace down the gut?…thank you for the alert @missbee23…i’m skipping past the habanero peppers then…if its going to be that bad, how about a bathroom session seriously?! {raised eyebrows}!!

  11. That is simply too much math for me! I’ll take the risk instead!
    Well… to be fair, usually, nothing is spicy enough for me, and I usually make more a spicy side dish than a spicy dish. Cannot have it any other way when my SO has no tolerance for spice and I want a lot of it. There simply isn’t a satisfying middle ground.

    That said, TV showed us some cooking hacks. One of them being: if a dish is too spicy, put a potato in to absorb the spice. It came out that this myth is no myth, that it does work! So that could be an idea, if one does not want to stretch out the complete dish.

  12. There’s quite some mathematics there! I love chili, in fact, the hotter the better for both me and my partenr so I tend to taste a small piece of the chili I am using first and determine how much I will need that way.

  13. Finally. Someone explained the practical use of the Scoville scale in cooking. This will greatly help me in the making of chili-based dishes using different varieties of chili available. One of which is Bicol Express of which a photo is attached.

    I do have a question, though. Do different kinds of hot peppers have subtle variations in flavor which will prevent them from being complete substitutes of each other? Or they just vary with “hotness” and nothing more. I want to know this because I am thinking of collecting different chilies and using them in my cooking.

    More power.

  14. I was completely unaware that a chipotle pepper ranks higher on the Scoville ratings than a jalapeno. I honestly thought it was ranked the other way around. I suppose it’s just the way I taste them. Chipotle is much smokier than it is hot to my palate.

    • Joan, I think you are picking up the “smokey” taste as a lot of chipotle has been roasted which also decreases it’s spiciness.

  15. That makes total sense. This is the type of information that helps me a ton because I love to cook with hot anything but my family is the total opposite so I tend to use peppers I can easily disguise with other flavours.

  16. This is absolute genius! It’s getting printed and hung on my refrigerator. My husband loves spicy food so I try to cook something special for him now and again. Just like you said, though, I either get it too hot or not hot enough. Thank you for this!

  17. Wow, it’s really cool to see a sort of math behind this stuff. I’d be interested to read more posts of a similar sort; food “theory”, so to speak. I knew about the Scoville rating of peppers, but I never really thought about how it played into the dish, and how that changed with the method of adding peppers to the dish (as you said, with the sort to “uneven” spice you can get with diced chunks). Some people might be turned off by the “math-y” side of things, but I found it interesting to see that take on food.

    • Despite not being much of a mathematically inclined person, I actually agree. Maybe I’m more mathematically inclined than I think I am, haha. I do enjoy the idea of knowing exactly and why a certain recipe works, in any case.

  18. I love hot peppers, although I do not go for the hottest. I love the information. It is necessary as we eat pI love hot peppers, although I do not go for the hottest. I love the information. It is necessary as we eat peppers with everything. My favorites ar jalapenos as they seem to have great flavor.

  19. Going through the Scoville ratings there, I have come to the realization that for most of my cooking I have been using peppers that are way up on the highest parts of the scale (for example, the Bhut Jolokia, or ghost pepper, is something I’ve used a lot), and maybe that is why I had to always have a bowl of curd with me to tone down the effects of the spiciness!
    Thanks for putting up this scale, this is surely going to let me make a much better decision on which pepper to use and how spicy I want what I’m cooking to be.

    • Wow you’ve been using the ghost pepper in your cooking, I couldn’t even imagine cooking with it at all, and I love spicy foods!! The habanero is the cut off for me, anything beyond that I’m not interested in trying.

  20. As a Mexican I have to say this is very interesting, I never imagined there was rating for how hot peppers can be. I just want to add that sometimes some peppers of the same kind are just stronger than others. For example, the poblano peppers sometimes are very hot and others they’re not, so besides using this scale try to notice the effect the pepper has in your nose when you’re cutting it. This is how we do it here. If the smell is very penetrating and goes all the way to your eyes then you should probably be careful. Other thing that is common with serrano and jalapeños is that when their color is lighter they are probably going to be very, very hot!

    Another tip is to never touch your eyes or sensible areas after cooking with peppers because it really stings. It’s not enough to wash them once, it takes a bit more than this to get rid of it. I use a fork to help me cut the peppers and when I’m preparing stuffed peppers or something that requires more manipulation I wear plastic gloves.

  21. Cooking=Science!
    I love that formula, there is not way to get things wrong.
    I hate when they don’t put the scoville on the product too, some places decide to invent their own system too which really gets me hot! I figure they do it because they don’t have the $$ to have the sauce tested.

  22. I’m a huge fan of chillies, I grow at least 30 different varieties in my garden and if you ask me there’s not such thing as too spicy but sometimes I need to restrain myself, especially when I have guests over, not everybody appreciates spicy food. So far I’ve been adding chillies without bothering to check the Scoville scale and sometimes I had to serve something else to my guests because I had exaggerated with hot peppers. I’ll make sure to keep your post in mind the next time I’ll be using chillies, it’s a useful read and I’m sure my guests will appreciate.

  23. I have learned from first hand experience that there is a fine line between an enjoyable level of heat and having a mouth of fire, which is to say the least, extremely unpleasant! My worst experience was when I actually ate a full chilli in a curry once, oh lordy, that almost blew my head off!

  24. I like the heat chart, very useful and I already printed it out. My method for dealing with hot peppers is to get them into the sauce as quickly as possible, they are always the first thing I add so they not only have more time to cook, but more time to blend. I also dice them much smaller than anything else. I don´t mind hot spicy food, but when you get a mouthful of something that has a big chunk of hot pepper, it can send you screaming. Small pieces, blended a long time.

  25. Wow! I had no idea about so many things that you talked about in this post, but actually I can’t really find another “objective” way, just like the mentioned rating, to really determinate how spicy a chilli can be, I think that the spiciest chili that I’ve ever had is the habanero one, I literally cried, lol! Here it is when it comes the cultural impact, here in my country we don’t really have a technique or a specific measure when it comes to chilies, most of us already know how hot it is because we have learned it from older people, it’s more like a subjective learning, I guess. But I still think that is a pretty good idea to keep this on mind.

  26. I have never seen an article written before that truly gives a sort of formula for how to calculate the amount of peppers you include in your recipe. Bravo! I think that this is a great starting point for those of us that love hot stuff. However, as someone that has grown hot peppers and eaten them all of her life, I give two pieces of advice. Not all peppers will have the same hotness just because they are the same kind. I have grown jalapenos that were very hot and some that were so mild you could eat them like bell peppers. Also, seeds are a tremendous factor as well. You should really remove all or as many seeds from peppers as you possibly can because sometimes they contain the most heat.

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