Anyone who has ever taken a bite of a super hot pepper knows that finding quick relief from the pain is difficult. You may know that ice cream, milk and other dairy products will help lessen the burn but reaching for water is probably one of the worst antidotes.
The main culprit is a molecule called capsaicin, which is found in the tissue of a number of hot peppers – including the infamous ghost chili, as well as the scotch bonnet and the habanero – and binds to pain receptors in the mouth. This stimulates the brain into coordinating a response designed to get the invading substance out of the body as quickly as possible, by making the eyes stream, the nose run, and the sweat begin to pour. There’s even a scale to measure the intensity of this response, called the Scoville scale.
However, rather than waiting for the body to recover naturally, pepper-stricken diners can take matters into their own hands by seeking out a non-polar substance to dissolve the capsaicin in.
Non-polar molecules are those which are not positively charged at one end and negatively charged at the other. Since capsaicin falls into this category, it can only be dissolved in other non-polar substances – of which water is not one. Milk, however, contains molecules such as fat and a protein called casein, which are ideal for removing capsaicin from the pain receptors in the mouth.
So next time to you bite off some hot peppers, try to get a glass of milk and just say no to water until the stinging subsides.