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The Scoville Cold War

The Scoville Cold War

September 18, 2017

Ever since Dave's Insanity hit the market in the early 1990s, many hot sauce manufacturers have jumped into a hot sauce weapons race reminiscent of the nuclear stockpiling and development programs of the Cold War. Each year they launch hotter and hotter sauces that push the bounds of destructiveness. You kind of imagine the conversation goes something like, "Blair's just launched a million Scoville Unit (SHU) sauce, well then we'll launch a 2 million SHU sauce." Or, "So, CaJohns just launched a Black Mamba hydrogen bomb at 2.5 million SHU, so we'll need to hit at least 3 million..." You get the idea. 

Back In My Day...

So how hot are we talking? Well, to give you a sense, back when Dave's Insanity first launched, it was banned from some food shows. At the time, its rating of 180,000 Scoville Units (SKH) was considered dangerous. By today's post-nuclear standards, that heat level seems to quaint to many chili heads. Still, for quite a while, Dave's dominated the "extreme" sauces market and is still a popular and well known brand, though many of it's new sauces top that 180K SHU level.

And Today...

Don't get me wrong, 180,000 SHUs packs a punch, especially when you consider that it's approximately 36 times hotter than your average jalapeno. But that kind of heat is nothing compared to some of the sauces that have been released in recent years. Blair's , Mad Dog, and CaJohns are just a few of the brands that are well known for pushing Scoville boundaries and literally heating up the market.

One of Mad Dog's flagship sauces is Mad Dog 357, which clocks in at 367,000 SHU, 74 times the heat of a jalapeno, and more than double that of Dave's Insanity. And that's not even Mad Dog's hottest sauce. Mad Dog 357 Gold Edition is 1,000,000 SHU, while Mad Dog 357 Pepper Extract clocks in at 5,000,000 SHU!

Pretty hot right? But Mad Dog has nothing on some of Blair's craziest hot sauces/extracts. Blair's is known for their limited edition and often hard to get sauces. The hottest of which (currently), Blair's 16 Million Reserve, comes in at an insane 16,000,000 SHU. To put that in perspective that's 3,200 times hotter than a jalapeno. But let's be honest, I can't imagine anyone actually realistically using this "sauce". My guess is for most buyers, they stay unopened on a shelf as a conversation piece. 

 Many of CaJohns sauces and extracts are serious sauces as well. The company's Black Mamba hot sauce weighs in at a respectable (and dangerous) 2.5 million SHU, while the Get Bitten Black Mamba hits 6,000,000 SHU.

How Are They Getting That Heat?

Capsaicin extracts, that’s how. Picture boiling something down to concentrate it. Then picture thick, gooey tar. Now imagine the taste. You’ve pretty much pictured extract. Dave’s Insanity was one of the first sauces credited with using extract in its sauce. Since then, producers have been not only cranking up the amount of extract in sauces, but working their black magic to increase the evil levels of potency of the extracts themselves.

But that’s not the only reason sauces are getting hotter. The peppers are getting hotter too.

Pepper Wars

Just like with sauces, there are a new crop (pun intended) of pepper maniacs on the loose too, their goal being to produce the hottest peppers possible. If you keep track of these things like we do, each year there’s a new, hottest pepper in the world title. Pepper farmers are regularly seeking out the hottest peppers from around the world, and then refining their breeding to produce hotter peppers.

Just a few years ago, the Bhut Jolokia, a.k.a. Ghost Pepper, was the world’s hottest pepper, ranking at over 1million Scoville. But now, it’s reportedly seventh on the list, falling behind peppers like the 7 Pot Douglah (1,853,936 SHU), Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (2,009,231 SHU), and the Carolina Reaper (2,200,000 SHU).

For All That Is Holy, Why?

Well, that’s a great question. Why do we challenge ourselves with super hot sauces and peppers? For some, it’s the challenge, the “danger” of trying something hotter than you’ve ever tried before. For others, it makes for super entertaining, and sometimes disturbing, YouTube videos. For some, it’s the euphoric feeling that comes from your body releasing endorphins because it thinks it’s on fire. And for heat addicts like myself, we’ve become desensitized to many “hot” sauces, and just don’t get any heat from them any more. We seek out new sauces that can make us sweat, while still adding excitement to our food.

So why do you try super hot sauces? Leave your comments below.

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