This previous Sunday, I was eating with my family at the cozy, hole-in-the-wall traditional Mexican restaurant in the strip mall across the street from my house. My order of ribeye steak flautas came with a side of rice, beans, and an innocent-seeming roasted pepper. Towards the end of the meal, after poking at the vividly green tube for a couple minutes, I naively popped the entire pepper into my mouth, downing it after only a couple bites. It turns out it wasn’t some generic chili.
The serrano pepper I ate has an intensity near 25,000 SHU, burning your internals with five times the fury of your average jalapeño. Why was that in the meal, and how or why on earth would anybody eat that thing plain? I still have no idea, but that wasn’t even on my mind as I was breathing out flames.
A couple minutes later, as I was crying and sweating drops of blood, I decided that it would have been really helpful if somebody had once told me how to recover. To help you out in the future, here are five tips on how to kill the burn:
Stay away from the water: Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the burning sensation in spicy foods, is non-polar. Drinking water to cool the burn is like trying to mix water and oil. In fact, drinking water is the worst thing you can do as it will spread the capsaicin around your mouth, making the burn even stronger.
Find something acidic: Capsaicin is quite basic; something acidic will neutralize the base. Try to find some coffee, lemonade, orange juice, or something citrus-y if possible. Candy works as well.
Or try milk: The casein protein, present in large concentrations in milk, is capable of binding to capsaicin and washing down the capsaicin easily. Ice cream is even better, as its low temperature helps numb your mouth to the pain.
Suck on a spoon of sugar: The sugar absorbs the capsaicin, and the sweetness should distract your mouth from the burning sensation.
Just wait it out: This is actually what I did at the restaurant: calm down, space out, rethink your life choices, and take a deep breath. You’re (probably) not gonna die, and in a couple minutes the pinprick sensation on your face should begin fading away. Plus, you’ll feel much better an hour later at not having freaked the hell out over a pepper.