Developments to Watch
HOW TO JUDGE A HOT PEPPER BY ITS GLOW
THERE'S FOUR-ALARM CHILI. There's five-alarm chili. And then there's chili that makes you weep and sweat. On the Scoville Organoleptic Scale, peppers range in hotness from the bell (zero) to the jalapeo (about 4,000) to the awesome habaero (300,000).
Human testers establish Scoville rankings by diluting extracts of pepper in sweetened water until no taste remains. But food companies want a faster approach. Perkin-Elmer Corp. in Norwalk, Conn., and others sell liquid chromatography machines to measure capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers. A bit of pepper is pumped through a column to separate the components. The more light they absorb, the more capsaicin is present. Hot peppers aren't just for chili: Johns Hopkins University researchers are developing capsaicin-based ointments for leg pain in AIDS patients.EDITED BY NEIL GROSS