Test Kitchen tips: Taming a chile pepper's heat
At first glance, chile peppers -- like a brightly-colored little habañero -- might come across as unassuming, or even cute. But they can pack a shocking punch if not used carefully in the kitchen.
Generally speaking, the smaller the chile, the more intense the heat. Be cautious when working with chiles; the oil from a chile can burn if it comes in contact with your skin or eyes. If possible, wear gloves or place your hands in food-grade plastic bags before handling. After working with the chiles, be sure to wash your knives, cutting board and anything else thoroughly with hot soapy water.
To reduce the heat in a chile, remove the placenta or veins (that white ribbing inside the chile) and the seeds. Cells on the surface of the placenta are responsible for secreting the capsaicin (the compound responsible for the heat) in the chile.
So what do you do to tame the heat when your mouth is burning? Food scientist Harold McGee has a couple of recommendations in his book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen:
"The two surest remedies -- though they're only temporary -- are to get something ice-cold into the mouth, or something solid and rough, rice or crackers or a spoonful of sugar. Cold liquid or ice cools the receptors down below the temperature at which they are activated, and the rough food distracts the nerves with a different kind of signal. Though capsaicin is more soluble in alcohol and oil than it is in water, alcoholic drinks and fatty foods appear to be no more effective than cold or sweetened water at relieving the burn (carbonation adds to the irritation). If all else fails, take comfort in the fact that capsaicin pain generally fades within 15 minutes."
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-- Noelle Carter
Photo credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times