History Haiku – January 22 – Birth of Wilbur Scoville

Polaroid of abstract peppers overlaid with the words of the poem in white letters

snow covered
the ground
like milk the
sun was a red
crescent a
chili pepper
spicing the
air with a
baby’s cry


Wilbur Scoville was born on January 22, 1865 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. A pharmacist by training, he wrote a celebrated pharmacy textbook and won many awards for his research – but he is best remembered for devising the Scoville Scale, which is still in use today for measuring the spiciness or heat of chili peppers. One could argue he made possible such things as chili pepper eating contests and our cultural awareness of different kinds of peppers and their spice levels. It is interesting to think of the effect that the attempt to quantify something has on our perception of it!

16 comments

  1. Pingback: Currents – K.
    1. Thank you, Kerfe! I thought it was remarkable he even set out to measure this – I don’t think I would have ever thought to measure such a thing as spiciness.

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    1. Thanks, Claudia! I enjoy a little heat in my food sometimes but I am always in awe of people who go all the way up on the Scoville scale and seem to get a kick out of it, so to speak!

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      1. I remember one business lunch about 35 years ago where I mistakenly ordered something with too much spice and I took a few bites, it hit me, and I then had to keep drinking water, hoping the customers didn’t notice, then I had to go to the white wine (back then you always had a drink with lunch while on business!) and then the bread. All the while trying to keep my mind on the meeting. Then they wanted to know why I didn’t finish my lunch, didn’t I like it? Eeek.

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      2. Oh no! And I feel like you have to say something to move the event along and not get everyone hung up on your lunch choice “I just got full” or “I’ll take it home and finish it later” πŸ˜€

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      3. Yes. The doggy bag idea was usually my choice. And, I did learn as time went on. Never order something you are not totally sure about, if you are eating in front of customers. Ditto messy dishes or more than one glass of wine.

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  2. Indeed, I’m grateful to him for giving me a gauge that’s significantly more dignified than my personally devised Hiccup Scale. πŸ˜‰

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    1. Right?! Or the fanning-mouth-saying-hot-hot-hot scale – I feel much more scientific saying the Scoville Scale of Spiciness. πŸ˜€

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