How Hot Are My Chile Peppers?

From the cool and mild bell to the scorching-hot habanero, there's a pepper for every palate.
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©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

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Growing Peppers

There's a lot to love in these colorful warm-weather vegetables: The active ingredient in chile peppers is used in ointments that soothe sore muscles and in thug-repelling pepper spray. Another good use: Chile powder is fed to captive flamingos to keep their feathers pink. But the most popular reason chile pepper aficionados love them is for their flavor. There's plenty of diversity in fruit shapes, colors and sizes and the way the plants grow. And, of course, there's diversity in the heat among various types of chiles.

The Scoville Scale

The heat in a chile pepper is found along the crosswalls and is quantified using the Scoville scale, which measures how many units of dilution it takes to eliminate a chile's heat altogether. The heat of a chile used to be determined by taste, but today pepper researchers use high-performance liquid chromatography. It "tastes" the peppers and analyzes the components that produce heat.

Heat Sensation

Besides the degree of heat, peppers differ in the sensation of heat. Asian chiles, shown here, have a very sharp heat that comes on quickly and dissipates just as fast.

Bell Peppers

The mildest pepper, 0 on the Scoville scale, is the bell pepper, which most people don't realize is a part of the chile pepper family. The heat of a pepper depends on more than genetics, however. Drought and high temperatures can make a pepper hotter, while mild temperatures and plenty of moisture render it milder.

Banana Peppers

Banana peppers are light green, orange or yellow in color and have an oblong shape with pointed tips. The raw peppers have a smooth texture and thick skin with seeds and lobes on the inside. They have a mild flavor and perfect for those with a low tolerance to spice, measuring up to about 500 Scoville units. 


Jalapenos are one of the most popular hot peppers, used in dishes across the globe. They are easy to grow and typically range from 2000 - 10,000 Scoville units, depending on the variety.

'Fresno' Chile Pepper

Red 'Fresno' produces petite but plump peppers that are often used in canning. They have similar heat to a jalapeno, ranging from 2000 - 10,000 SHU. 

'Black Pearl' Pepper

This compact pepper has unique, near-black foliage and hot berries that range from 20,000 to 30,000 Scoville units.

'Chinese 5-Color' Hot Pepper

Don't let 'Chinese 5-Color' peppers' appearance fool you—these colorful peppers pack some heat, around 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. The bushy plant starts bearing fruit in as early as 70 days and can be grown in a large container.

Cayenne Peppers

Cayenne peppers are related to the paprika and a popular choice for drying. These chiles are slightly hot, ranging from 30,000 - 50,000 Scoville units.

Hot Aji 'Amarillo' Pepper

Aji 'Amarillo', a Peruvian pepper, is a compact plant, laden with long, medium hot chilis (up to 50,000 Scoville units) that turn from green to yellow, then orange.

'Prairie Fire' Pepper

'Prairie Fire' produces hundreds of tiny fruits that make up for their size with an explosive fiery taste. They average around 70,000 Scoville units.

'NuMex Twilight' Ornamental Chile

An ornamental pepper that works well in containers, 'NuMex Twilight' fruits begin purple, transition to yellow, then orange and finally to red. This pepper measures up to 100,000 on the Scoville scale.

The Mother of All Chilies

Often called "the mother of all chiles," the chiltepin is a wild chile native to the Southwest and Mexico. Plant breeders capitalize on the chiltepin's genetic makeup to develop disease resistance and plant hardiness in new chile pepper varieties. These tiny peppers, typically smaller than a penny, pack a punch, ranking at 50,000 – 100,000 Scoville units.

Thai Dragon Pepper

This spicy pepper is about twice as hot as a Tabasco pepper (75,000 - 140,000 SHU) and can be picked or left on the plant to dry. The pungent, red fruits mature in 70 to 80 days. They're used not only in Asian cuisine, but as ornamentals in the garden.

Scotch Bonnet Pepper

Scotch bonnet peppers are among the most intensely hot of all peppers, ranking in at 150,000 - 325,000 SHU. They are used primarily in Latin American and Jamaican cuisine. They need long, hot summers to grow well.


Depending on variety, the orange habanero is among the hottest of peppers, registering 210,000 Scoville units. Red habaneros typically average 150,000 units.

The Ghost Pepper

They call them ghost peppers for a reason: Bhut jolokia, an Indian hybrid, can exceed a scary-hot 1,000,000 Scoville units.