Probably the most important contribution from the West-cm Hemisphere to the world's spice racks arc the capsicum peppers. These peppers (also called chili peppers) are the fruits of plants in the genus Capsicum, which includes several cultivated spccics and hundreds of varieties. These peppers arc unrelated to black pepper (Piper nigrum). Among the varieties of capsicum peppers are the mild bell peppers and the fiery habaneros, with dozens of varieties in between. The fiery taste of chilies is due to the presence of a group of alkaloids known as capsaicinoids. The most important of these is capsaicin. The capsaicin content of bell peppers is negligible, but it is quite high in jalapenos, cayennes, and habaneros. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville came up with a method of measuring the biting taste of these peppers. This method uses a panel of five tasters who sample extracts of the peppers diluted in sugar water. The greatest dilution, which can still be dctcctcd by 3 of the 5 tasters, is considered die heat level. The units used arc Scoville Heat Units. These range from 0 for bell pepper* to 1,000-5,000 for jalapenos to 100,000-300,000 tor the hottest habaneros. In modern commerce, the Scoville Heat L'nits arc measured more precisely with HPLC (high pressure liquid chromatography). For this exercise, we will use a modification of Scoville \s taste test to measure the "heat" of several varieties of capsicum peppers.
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