Science project

Too Hot To Handle



Students will discover how many hot peppers humans can endure in their tomato soup before they feel discomfort.

Research Questions:

  • What is the composition of capsaicin?
  • What gives people the spicy sensation when consuming peppers?
  • At what level of the Scoville scale is considered “very hot”?
  • What portion of the pepper is the hottest?
  • What should be consumed to relieve food spiciness?

Hot peppers contain capsaicin, and their heat is measured in Scoville units. The Scoville scale was developed in 1912 by an American chemist by the name of Wilbur Scoville, to rate the pungency of chile peppers. The scale ranges from 0 (no heat) to 16,000,000 (maximum heat; no one should attempt to eat pure capsaicin...ever!)

Test subjects will be presented with several tomato soups made with different peppers that rate on various levels of the Scoville scale and then be asked to consume and rate the hotness of each soup. The scientist will also observe and record their physical signs, such as redness in the face, sweating, panting, etc. 


  • A variety of peppers (Bell pepper, Jalepeno, Chili, Cayenne, Poblano, Banana Pepper, Habanero etc.)
  • Tomato soup
  • 50 Test subjects (healthy teens and adults)
  • Knife
  • Gloves
  • Milk 
  • Pen/paper 
  • Attention to detail 

Experimental Procedure:

Note: The milk is for “neutralizing” the acid in the spice. Between peppers, milk should be given to the test subject so there is no “after taste” that affects results. There should be a five-minute pause between each pepper as well.

  1. With gloves on, cut up each pepper into small, but sizeable pieces.
  2. Pour the tomato soup into different bowls and place each type of pepper into individual bowls of soup.
  3. Microwave each bowl of soup on high for one minute, to release some of the spiciness.
  4. Arrange the soups into a row, ranging from least spicy to most spicy, according to the Scoville scale.
  5. Have each test subject taste a spoonful of the least spicy soup, and record their thoughts in the chart below. Watch for any signs that it is too hot for them, and record these as well.
  6. Present your test subject with the next soup. Repeat the same procedure as the previous step.
  7. Your subject should keep tasting until the soup is too hot for him or her to consume.
  8. Evaluate your results and calculate the average rating for each pepper.
Type of Pepper
Hotness Rating from 1-10
Example: Banana Pepper

Terms, Concepts: Scoville Scale, capsaicin, hot pepper


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