Romance on the Chili Pepper Scale

By Sarah Yurch | June 6 2024 | FictionRomance

If you’ve spent any time on BookTok, you’ve almost definitely heard of “spice” ratings or seen a book rated on a scale of 1 to 5 “chili peppers.” While this taxonomy initially became popular as a TikTok-friendly way of talking about steamy romance, it’s a helpful shorthand to aid readers in finding the kinds of books they’re looking for, from a sweet romance that culminates in a kiss, to erotica with plenty of explicit sex scenes.

There is naturally some variation in readers’ definitions of the various levels of “spice” based on their own romance-reading preferences. For example, some readers consider books without any sex scenes to not rate at all on the spicy scale. Other readers consider any frank description of body parts to be an automatic 5-pepper rating. And still other readers rank books based on what percentage of the page count is devoted to steamy scenes. But there does appear to be some broad consensus about what defines each spice level. I used romance resources like Romance Rehab and Romance.io, as well as videos by creators like @tierney.reads, @salmaslibrary, @bookofemily, and @literaryalexandra to help define the below Chili Pepper Heat Rating scale and the books that belong to it:

1 chili pepper: Sweet romance. Meaningful glances, tension, hand holding, and probably some kissing at the end, but no sex on or off the page.

Click here for a list of 1-Chili-Pepper Reads

2 chili peppers: More sweet than sexy romance. A slow burn that builds up to one sex scene that happens behind closed doors. Fade to black, reader is not present.

Click here for a list of 2-Chili-Pepper Reads

3 chili peppers: Sensual romance. Often 1–3 explicit sex scenes with the reader present, but typically mild or euphemistic language. Open door, but minimal detail.

Click here for a list of 3-Chili-Pepper Reads

4 chili peppers: Sexy romance. The spice is important to the plot. Often 4+ open-door sex scenes with more explicit language. These books often contain a wider variety of different sex acts described in frank descriptive language and greater detail.

Click here for a list of 4-Chili-Pepper Reads

5 chili peppers: Erotic romance. The spice is central to the plot, and sex is explicit, plentiful, and adventurous. The sex scenes are frequent and very descriptive. Anything goes, including sex acts that some readers may find taboo.

Click here for a list of 5-Chili-Pepper Reads

Dreamland
A Novel
978-0-593-44957-8
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Wish comes a poignant love story about risking everything for a dream—and whether it’s possible to leave the past behind.
$18.00 US
Aug 08, 2023
Paperback
Dell
US,OpnMkt(no EU/CAN)

Practice Makes Perfect
A Novel
978-0-593-50080-4
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A small-town sweetheart and an emotionally unavailable bad boy try to find some common ground in this chemistry-filled romance from Sarah Adams, author of The Cheat Sheet and When in Rome.
$17.00 US
May 02, 2023
Paperback
Dell
US, Canada, Open Mkt

Every Summer After
978-0-593-43853-4
Six summers to fall in love. One moment to fall apart. A weekend to get it right. A magazine writer has to make a choice when she returns to the lake she grew up on, and to the man she thought she’d never have to live without, in this achingly nostalgic debut.
$16.00 US
May 10, 2022
Paperback
Berkley
US, Opn Mkt (no CAN)

Birthday Girl
978-0-593-64196-5
True love comes from the most forbidden places in this TikTok smash hit from New York Times bestselling author Penelope Douglas, now with bonus material!
$17.00 US
Sep 26, 2023
Paperback
Berkley
World

Her Soul to Take
A Paranormal Dark Academia Romance
978-1-4967-5289-5
FEATURING NEW EXCLUSIVE BONUS CONTENT!Like Buffy or The Vampire Diaries but with tons more spice, a titillating fork-tongued demon, and a ritualistic monster cult, the edgy dark romance that set Tiktok on fire is now here as a special edition with bonus content for fans of Scarlett St. Claire, Penelope Douglas, and Katee Robert.
$18.95 US
Feb 20, 2024
Paperback
Kensington
World