National Pepper Month: How Hot Is My Pepper Spray?

11 03 2016

The pepper spray industry is not government-regulated, which leaves a lot of room for myths and misinformation. One of the most popular pepper spray myths is that this self-defense product is accurately measured by Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

Brands tend to advertise the raw pepper's SHU, not of the mixed pepper spray formulation, which dilutes the fruit significantly.

The lesser-known truth is that capsaicinoid - the pepper's heat-bearing component - percentage is the true indicator of heat.

How do you measure capsaicinoids? New Mexico State University's Paul W. Bosland and Stephanie J. Walker explain.

"The most accurate method for measuring heat in chile peppers is high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). In this procedure, fruit are dried and then ground. Next, the chemicals responsible for heat are extracted, and the extract is injected into the HPLC for analysis. This method is more costly than the Scoville test, but it gives an objective heat analysis. Not only does this method measure the total heat present, it also allows the amounts of the individual capsaicinoids to be determined."

In contrast, the Scoville Organoleptic Test, which determines SHU, is subjective and thus less dependable. Bosland and Walker summarize the issues with this taste-based test.

"The Scoville Organoleptic Test is also less expensive than more advanced laboratory techniques, but it has its limitations. Measuring heat with this technique is still subjective and depends on the taster's palate and sensitivity to the chemicals that are responsible for heat."

Subjectivity may be no big deal when it comes to the peppers you eat for dinner, but it's a problem when it comes to pepper spray, a product your life may someday depend upon. In fact, pepper sprays fail 30% of the time on the basis of heat inconsistency, as reported by the University of Utah. As the only pepper spray manufacturer with an HPLC lab, SABRE is the only brand that can guarantee maximum strength in each batch. Learn more about HPLC here.

Make an informed buying decision.

If you want to know how hot your pepper spray really is, you need to know its capsaicin percentage. Here's a heat index for dog spray, human pepper spray and bear spray.