Found in hot peppers, chilis (sometimes spelt chiles) but not in wasabi.

Pure capsaicin is almost guaranteed to give you respiratory arrest if you inhale it (it's a white powder). Thankfully, pure capsaicin only exists in pharmaceutical labs awaiting incorporation into various creams and lotions. Perhaps paradoxically, capsaicin preparations are quite useful as analgesic agents - they numb the pain sensation. Even so, the concentrations used are lower than 1% - dangerous stuff.

A measure of how concentrated capsaicin is in nature, have a look at

8-methyl-n-vanillyl-6-nonenamide. A chemical which forms a large part of my diet. It has been found to have medicinal properties as a pain killer and is used in defensive Pepper Spray. It is the most potent and the most common of the Capsaicinoids.

A friend once told me a story about two guys he knew. One of them was an early researcher of the properties of pure capsaicin. The other was a badass. The researcher always carried a bottle of pure capsaicin with him in order to flavor his foods. One time the researcher and the badass were eating breakfast together (with this friend of mine in attendance as well), and the researcher stuck the very tip of a toothpick into the capsaicin and gently waved it in the presence of his omelet. The badass asked what he was doing, and the researcher explained that he was using the vapor of the capsaicin to add some spice to his omelet.

The badass thought the researcher was a wuss, and took the bottle of capsaicin and poured some onto his own omelet.

Needless to say, the badass was shocked and humbled, and probably couldn't taste anything for a week.

Molecular Weight: 305.42
Empirical Formula: C18H27NO3
Boiling Point: 210-220 degrees C
Melting Point: 65 degrees C
Soluble in: ethanol, ether, benzene, and petroleum ether

    \_           O                    CH3
    / \          ||                   |
HO -   - C - N - C - (CH2)4 - C = C - C - CH3       
    \_/  |   |                |   |   |
         H2  H                H   H   H

Capsaicin is the chemical found in various hot peppers that causes the lips, the mucous membranes inside one's mouth, the esophagus and each end of the digestive tract to feel a burning sensation upon consumption, digestion and elimination, in addition to being the main ingredient in pepper spray. The hotness, or "acridity", of capsaicin is measured in Scoville Heat Units.

Please note: this list should be considered incomplete, as new super-hot pepper cultivars are appearing one at a time every few years, mostly thanks to a man named Ed Currie, one of the world's foremost pepper growers.

Additionally, the peppers listed below have a range of Scoville heat units rather than a static number. This is because there are a few factors that affect the pungency of peppers—weather conditions, mostly, but also soil quality and, as any grower would tell you, luck.

Many, if not most of those listed below following the ghost pepper, are cultivars and are not found in the wild.

Pepper name Scoville rating Country or region of origin
Banana100—500South America
Pepperoncini (aka friggitelli)100—500Italy
Española1,000—1,500New Mexico
Cascabel cherry1,000—2,500Mexico
Ancho de Pasilla1,000—4,000Mexico
Anaheim/Hatch (aka New Mexican)1,500—2,500USA
Black Hungarian2,500—15,000Hungary
Chile de Árbol15,000—30,000Mexico
Black Cobra20,000—40,000Venezuela
Cayenne30,000—50,000French Guiana
Chiltepín50,000—100,000Central/South America
Peri-peri50,000—175,000Sub-Saharan Africa
Siling Labuyo80,000—100,000Philippines
Scotch Bonnet100,000—350,000Brazil
Madame Jeanette100,000—350,000Suriname
Red Savina350,000—577,000California
Nagabon (Scotch Bonnet X Ghost Pepper)750,000—900,000UK
Naga Jolokia (aka Ghost Pepper)855,000—1,041,000India
7 Pot Douglah924,000—2,200,000Trinidad and Tobago
Naga Morich1,000,000—1,850,000Bangladesh
Naga Viper1,000,000—1,300,000UK
Infinity chili1,067,000—1,300,000UK
Trinidad Scorpion Butch T1,200,000—1,400,000Trinidad and Tobago
Komodo Dragon1,400,000—2,200,000UK
Genghis Khan's Brain1,500,000—1,700,000Italy
Carolina Reaper (Naga Viper X Habanero)1,569,000—1,700,000South Carolina
Trinidad Moruga Scorpion1,800,000—2,000,000Trinidad and Tobago
Dragon's Breath2,480,000—2,600,000UK
Pepper X3,180,000 +South Carolina

For reference, consumer-grade pepper spray rates about 2,000,000 and police-grade rates 4,500,000 Scoville units. Pure, unrefined capsaicin rates at 16,000,000 Scovilles.

It's a tricky proposition to eat any of the peppers (fresh and whole) listed above that come after the habanero; search Youtube for "eating carolina reaper" or "eating scorpion peppers" and it becomes abundantly clear that doing so causes most people severe gastrointestinal distress, making the consumption of such peppers more of a survival challenge than anything else. (Indeed, Dragon's Breath and Pepper X aren't even intended for human consumption; rather, those peppers are grown for use in anesthetic topical solutions, although at least one sauce has been made from Pepper X—Heatonist's "The Last Dab XXX", which has been featured on Hot Ones for a few years.) This isn't necessarily the case when those peppers are used to make hot sauces, but still, use caution and common sense when approaching heat level 10+.

Cap*sa"i*cin (?), n. [From Capsicum.] Chem.

A colorless crystalline substance extracted from the Capsicum annuum, and giving off vapors of intense acridity.


© Webster 1913.

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