Peppers… we’ve all done it. For most of us, that time when we did it, we swear, will never happen again! Once was enough, we learned our lesson.
However, some bonkers people just have to come back and do it again and again and again. My brother and my son are two such people.
Growing up, we all knew my brother was a little, different. If someone said it would burn, he would dump 10 jalapeno peppers onto his plate; and even through profuse sweating and tears, he would eat every last one, just to prove he could!
My son has the decency and intellect to eat his hot sauce on a chicken burger, where the bread soaks up most of the burn.
I am not averse to hot peppers. I went through a phase, when I was young and dumb, where I also ate hot chili, curry and rice that left me begging for the pain to end, and hot spicy burgers.
As I have gotten older, I got wiser, now I just like mine to not cause me to look like a twat who cannot close my mouth. NUTS, I tell you!
But who can resist? The smells and the colors are amazing, and you can make such a wide variety of dishes, from dozens of countries, using a blend of peppers. You may want to keep the list of remedies listed below close by so that you can indulge in your nemesis.
The pungency or spiciness of peppers is registered on the Scoville Scale. In 1912, pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville created the scale by diluting the capsaicin found in different pepper in sugar water.
The sadist that he must have been, he then placed droplets of the mixture on the tongues of his volunteer victims. He would take notes about how long and intense the burn lasted, and slowly add more sugar water to the mix until the burn was gone.
The number rating is the number of times he had to dilute the pepper until it stopped burning. Cruelty to human animals, I tell you!
What Makes Peppers Burn
I know I blame the peppers but, in reality, peppers do not actually burn. They contain capsaicin which binds with a vanilloid receptor in our mouths which activate pain receptors. The pain receptors immediately send your brain the message, That REALLY burns!
Your brain sends the message to your mouth in the hopes that you will stop being silly, and opt for something safer, like a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk.
The capsaicin irritates your mouth, nose, skin, eyes, throats, and causes excess stomach acid – leading to acid reflux. You will experience anything from “Mmm… tasty” to FIVE ALARM FIRE.
What NOT to Do
If there is a fire and we want to put it out, we throw water on it. Right? Surely if there is a fire in our mouths, the first thing we would think of to put the fire out is water. Worst mistake ever!
Because capsaicin is an oil, the water will just glide on by. If anything, it will just spread the pain around making things worse.
Stay away from anything water-based if you are on fire. That means no:
- ❌ Water
- ❌ Coffee
- ❌ Tea
- ❌ Soda
- ❌ Beer
- ❌ Wine
The last two could appear irrational given one of the remedies that work listed below; therefore, let me deal with them now.
Stop A Hot Pepper Burn in Your Mouth
In many restaurants, when you order something hot and spicy, it comes with a small bowl of sour cream. The reason for this is that the cream neutralizes the capsaicin.
In fact, all dairy products contain casein. It is the casein in dairy products that neutralizes the capsaicin.
✅ The best remedy to the hellfire in your mouth is, therefore, dairy. Milk, yogurt, cream, sour cream, and especially ice cream work brilliantly, and immediately get rid of the burn.
✅ Sugary products also work very well. Sugar absorbs the capsaicin oil rapidly, neutralizing the burn.
If you are out at a restaurant, you can use one of the sugar packets left on the table for tea and coffee. Sugar, honey, and candy all work well.
Starch draws the capsaicin oil out neutralizing the heat well. The problem is that while chips, boiled potatoes, and boiled white rice all work well if you are not expecting the burn, cooking any of these will take longer than the burn will last.
If you are making something spicy, prepare for the pain by cooking some potatoes or rice with the spicy dish.
The countries that serve these extra tasty dishes usually do it with a bed of rice. They do this because they know the pain well.
✅ A simple starch that works well is the humble slice of bread. If you have access to bread, eat a slice when the burn starts, or better yet, eat it while you are eating your hot peppery meal.
In South Africa, we have a dish called Bunny Chow. Well… it is not really a dish. It is a very tasty, curried, peppery stew, and can really burn if not for one crucial thing. It is served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. It is yummy to eat, and the bread balances the sting really well.
✅ Eating acidic food like lemons, oranges, pineapple, or tomatoes also neutralizes the capsaicin, bringing instant relief.
✅ Avocadoes and bananas are also very good. They are very soothing because of their high-fat content.
Whenever I make chili or curry, I add sliced bananas and desiccated coconut on top of the dish. It makes the dish look interesting and very chef-worthy, and it balances the flavor of the peppers beautifully.
✅ There is also the option of rinsing your mouth with olive or vegetable oil and spitting it out. I cringe when I make chips (fries) and a little oil gets in my mouth, I do not even eat butter or margarine because of the oily texture, so I cannot bring myself to even think that this is an option for me.
If I did not have access to any of the other resources listed, I would just die quietly wallowing in the agony of the peppers.
Referring back to my message about alcohol, high alcohol content drinks – specifically vodka or tequila – will immediately neutralize the burn.
I have left the two tastiest remedies for last…
✅ Peanut butter is great because it has the oil to neutralize the capsaicin, and it sticks everywhere in your mouth. To double the effect, have a generously thick peanut butter sandwich. The bread and oil will rid you of your agony immediately.
You can even get creative and add jelly, jam, or even bananas to really tackle the five-alarm fire.
✅ Last but not least, eat chocolate! Chocolate contains dairy – casein, plus the fat in the milk that forms an oily barrier – and sugar. Chew it quickly, then swirl it about in your mouth until it dissolves. Chocolate is the perfect dessert after a hot, spicy meal.
Stop A Hot Pepper Burn on Your Skin
Old wives spin many tales; when it comes to neutralizing the burn of hot peppers, they rise to the occasion.
The tale goes that if you scrub your hands with stainless steel you will remove the burn. In reality, all you are doing is spreading the capsaicin on your skin and contaminating your stainless-steel scrub.
Getting rid of the burn on your hands is no different than getting rid of the burn in your mouth in one important way: STAY AWAY FROM WATER.
Water and oil do not mix. Water will not wash the oil off your hands.
✅ Before you reach for the tap, rub vegetable oil on your hands. The vegetable oil will dilute and neutralize the capsaicin. Let it stay on your hands for at least two minutes, then wash your hands with soap and warm water.
✅ Soaking your hands in dairy products or rubbing them with dairy products will immediately neutralize the capsaicin, giving you instant relief.
✅ Rubbing alcohol, disinfectant, or high proof alcohol will instantly cool the burn. Just rub it all over the area that is burning. Leave it on for five minutes, then wash your hands with soap and warm water.
Scrubbing your hands with baking soda absorbs the oil making it easy to wash off.
✅ Vinegar also cools burns very well. Just rub it into the affected area and wash it off with soap and water.
You can also dilute bleach to a very weak mixture. This has the same effect as the alcohol. It does take a bit longer. I would rather soak my hands in the weak bleach for quick relief.
However, bleach can be harsh on sensitive skin. It must be very weak, and you should not leave your hands in for long. Use 30 milliliters in a bucket with 3 liters of water. Only do a quick wash or soak with the bleach.
If you have sensitive skin, I do not recommend doing this. It can also weaken your nails, so wash your hands thoroughly afterward paying extra attention to the nails and nail beds.
✅ If you can, use corn starch paste. Not only will it stop the burning, but it will also act as a gentle exfoliator, leaving your hands silky smooth.
Use liquid soap, and create a lot of foam, scrubbing your whole hand and your fingernails.
✅ The last two remedies are calamine lotion and dish soap. Both work; just not as quickly as any of the other remedies.
If you are using dish soap, first lather up with the soap before you go near the water.
All of these remedies require that you properly wash your hands with soap and warm water after the burn has been relieved.
Capsaicin can also dry out the skin – no matter how quick you were to take action. I recommend that you use a good hand lotion once you have washed your hands.
Stop A Hot Pepper Burn in Your Eye
We have all worked with hot peppers and forgotten all about our hands, because the burn is not that bad, and then touched our eyes. Yikes: does that hurt!
Obviously, we cannot throw bleach or alcohol in our eyes. So how do we clear our eyes of the burn?
- Step one: wash your hands using one of the techniques listed above. The fact that your eyes burn after you touch them means you have capsaicin on your hands. If you try treating your eyes for the burn with capsaicin still on your hands you will only make things worse.
- Step two: blink rapidly to stimulate tears to clear your eyes (the same method as you would do if you were pepper-sprayed).
- Step three: rinse your eyes with milk, or water.
Do not touch your eyes. You will only spread the capsaicin making things worse. Placing slices of cucumber on your eyes can also help clear your eyes, and soothe the burn.
If you do not want burnt skin or burning eyes, use rubber gloves when you are preparing your dish. If your skin does not come in contact with the pepper, two out of three burns will be taken care of (hands and eyes). The third one is yours to deal with using any of the methods above.
Dairy should always be your first choice. It is the most effective and efficient way to neutralize the capsaicin.
Before washing your hands or drinking water, use one of the methods above and wait until the burning stops. Only then will it be safe to drink or wash with water.
If you are a pepper-head like my brother and son, you may want to rethink your life…
Now at least you know how to deal with the unpleasant side-effect of your taste for all things hot and spicy. Indulge and enjoy!
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.