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Wilbur Scoville and the Organoleptic Test Centennial - 2 PDF Print E-mail
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Wilbur Scoville and the Organoleptic Test Centennial
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And he was insightful into the process of drug addiction as well as the addicts themselves. “The renewal of prescriptions is also a question for individual judgment,” he wrote. “In the majority of cases renewals are expected and granted, on demand, but occasions sometimes arise where a single vial-full is all that is needed or advisable. The notion that a medicine “can do no harm, if it does no good,” is in most cases erroneous, sometimes very decidedly so.” Then Scoville gets down to the real nitty-gritty: “Moreover, the pharmacist should remember that such conditions as are found in opium or cocaine habitues (not to say drunkards), often originate in the use of a prescription containing one of these drugs in some form, originally prescribed for a legitimate purpose, but renewed from time to time until the habit is established.” Early Oxycontin, anyone?

In 1897, he resigned as editor of the New England Druggist and the following year accepted the position of pharmacy editor of The Spatula, the journal-cum-magazine of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. It was called “The Illustrated Monthly Publication for Druggists,” and carried ads for Clifford's Moustache Wax, Parke, Davis & Company's Pure, Uncolored Insect Powder, and the Clean Font Modern Nursing Bottle, among others for industry products like drug bottles. The magazine was a chatty, informative publication featuring articles about new products, notable druggists, drug laws, and a bit of gossip. During his time there and beyond, from 1900 to 1910, Scoville was on the committee to revise the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and he chaired that committee during his final year on it. He also worked on revising the National Formulary and was a staunch advocate of pharmacy standards.

Scoville had a lively, inquisitive mind and did studies on the extracts of witchhazel and cinchona, and he wrote an article entitled “Some Observations on Glycerin Suppositories.” In 1903, his article “Standards for Flavor Extracts” was published in the American Journal of Pharmacy and it proved that Scoville was part of the same debates we have today over natural versus artificial flavors. A review of his article appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and the reviewer had this to say about it: “Professor Scoville points out that flavoring extracts are not all used for the same purposes, that, of those who use them, few are good judges of quality. He who 'lives to eat,' the epicure, demands the very best of flavoring, not in the so-called 'extracts' only, but in the flavoring and seasoning of all of his dishes. He who 'eats to live,' the non-epicure, he whose sense of taste has not been carefully educated, and is not infallible, will allow to pass unnoticed a heavy or even a coarse flavor, or an inharmonius flavoring of the various dishes composing his meal.” At this point in his article, Scoville discussed a situation that modern home bakers still face: “One will insist upon having a vanilla extract made from the best Mexican beans, while the other will be satisfied with an extract prepared from Tahiti or Vanillon beans, or from some combination of these with vanillin, tonka, or cumarin. The difference between these flavoring agents is not one of wholesomeness, but one of taste. If the public finds that the distinction between vanilla and vanillin is too subtile for the average discrimination, and that vanillin holds its flavor better in cooking, why should the epicure object to the non-epicure enjoying it?'"

In 1904, Scoville resigned from the college, and Benjamin Lillard, editor of The Practical Druggist, had this to say about it: “Professor Wilbur L. Scoville, who has been known for many years as a prominent professor in the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, has resigned his position and accepted a berth with a large firm of Boston retailers owning four stores. It is unfortunate that the independent colleges are not in position to pay larger salaries and keep men of Professor Scoville's ability.” Scoville was director of the Jaynes Analytical Laboratory, just purchased by the Riker drug stores, where for $2.50 per patient, his staff performed urine analyses. And he was continuing to publish articles in the American Journal of Pharmacy, like “Aromatic Elixir” in the April, 1904 issue.

But commercial laboratory work didn't last long. Scoville was recruited by one of The Spatula's advertisers, Parke, Davis & Company in 1907 and moved his family from Boston to Detroit. The Bulletin of Pharmacy, published in Detroit, had this to say about Scoville's hire: “In a great house like Parke, Davis & Company, Professor Scoville will have ample opportunity to utilize his varied abilities to the utmost.” And one of those abilities—his work with Heet, a muscle salve manufactured by the company he had just joined—would make him famous.Parke Davis Office and Labs, 1890

Heet was made with chile peppers and the problem was standardizing the type and the amount of chiles that needed to be added to the other ingredients of Heet to standardize the formulation and avoid burning the skin of the person using it. Scoville was assigned to solve this problem, which took a few years due to his other duties. In the earliest reference to his work on chiles, the American Journal of Pharmacy noted in 1911: “Wilbur L. Scoville presented a Note on Capsicum, showing the great variation in the strength of capsicum, and suggesting the possibility of the pungency of this drug being used as a simple test for quality. This paper elicited some discussion in the course of which it was pointed out that the physiological test for capsicum was infinitely more delicate and more reliable than the similar test that has been proposed for use in connection with aconite.”

At the American Pharmaceutical Association annual meeting in Denver in 1912, Scoville presented a paper on his solution to the Heet problem: the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Albert Brown Lyons, writing in Practical Standardization by Chemical Assay of Organic Drugs and Galenicals (1920), explains. “It is quite possible to form a reasonably 'exact judgment' of the 'strength' of a sample of the drug [capsaicin] by the simple expedient of testing its pungency. W. L. Scoville proposes the following practical method. Macerate 0.1 gm. of ground capsicum overnight in 100 mils of alcohol; shake well and filter. Add this tincture to sweetened water (10% sugar) in such proportion that a distinct but weak pungency is perceptible to the tongue or throat. According to Scoville official capsicum will respond to this test in a dilution of 1 : 50,000. He found the Mombassa chilles to test from 1 : 50,000 to 1 : 100,000; Zanzibar chillies, 1 : 40,000 to 1 : 45,000; Japan chillies 1 : 20,000 to 1 : 30,000. Nelson found that a single drop of a solution of capsaicin in alcohol 1 : 1,000,000, applied to the tip of the tongue produced a distinct impression of warmth.”


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