How long is a piece of String? V  How hot is a Chilli?


The first one is simple – just measure it. I project managed my house here at Lodge Farm in the good old days of renovation and builders, sometimes that very same question would arise ‘how long is a piece of string’ in my little dyslexic brain I pondered for all of a minute and just came up with the very simple option of measuring it – for years’ people have been stumbled upon that ‘ye old piece of string’ and the answer was just sitting there in the tape measure.

However, a chilli is a very different thing altogether –

There are several factors to how hot is a chilli and its simply not as easy as measuring it, while a piece of sting only needs one friend i.e a tape measure, we are surrounded by people who all have different opinions – and negative ones at that like ‘how long is a piece of string’!

  • Factor One – there are over 2000 different chillis.
  • Factor Two –all of them have different heat measurements on the Scovilles scale.
  • Factor Three – and it’s not necessarily the smaller the chilli the hotter it is – take a Habanero for instance, blow your head off plump medium one while the Ghost is a mini bell pepper looking monster of heat.
  • Factor Four – The top of the chilli is hotter than the tip not to mention leaving the seeds in will make it even hotter.
  • Factor Five – The longer you leave it on the plant the hotter it gets.
  • Factor Six – different people measure heat differently, a Northerner would say ‘ay,up get us a Vindaloo’ while an old lady from Bournemouth would say a ‘Korma is too spicy’.
  • Factor Seven – Dried & ground chilli gets hotter through time and then gets milder & stale if left for yonks – –
  • Factor Eight –Chefs have different opinions on heat, it’s very personal so what might be hot to him/her might not be hot enough to their diners – so a spicy hot three chilli on the menu marked dish is just an opinion of the maker!
  • Factor Nine – Cultural spiciness, Thai’s love heat. I once worked with an Indian chef who couldn’t eat Thai because he considered it too hot, yet he drank ginger and chilli tea when he was coming down with a cold. I tame down my Thai recipes by 5 – 6 times just so its edible! The resdent chilli in Thailand is a very hot little number and they use handfuls in most dishes garnished with yet more of them. While Middle Eastern cultures will use it liberally. Westerners are so varied in spice opinion we have to have none, mild, medium and hot so we can gage our levels.

So, as you can see it’s a mixed bag of spiciness we are having to deal with –

A brief note on Scovilles = A measurement of spicy pungency

This scale to chillis is your tape measure to string!

Bell pepper =0

Paprika & pimento – 100-1,000

Tabasco & Cayenne = 30,000-50,000

Habanero Scotch Bonnet = 100,000 – 350,000

Trinidad Scorpion Butch = 2,480,000

But to simplify it as we did with the string –

  • – – How hot is a chilli – – simple TASTE IT, that really is the only way you can tell?

Tip – yogurt or milk will cool your mouth down, hot drinks and beer etc. will simply wash the HEAT around your mouth more!

Of course, like string by colour, thickness and quality you can gage a chilli on name, like a ‘Pablano’ = medium hot, but that still doesn’t tell you how hot it is for YOU.


Zena Leech-Calton ©