Photo from seedfest.co.uk
A good friend of mine, thebeerb1tch, had an unfortunate incident recently with a habanero pepper. It seems she was chopping one and found she couldn't get the hot burn off of her hands. Anyone who has had this happen knows just how annoying, and even painful, this can be. It lasts for days and if you wear contact lenses, forget about wearing anything but glasses for a week. (I once thought washing my hands was enough, took out my contacts and my eyes teared rivers and turned blood red. I could barely open them. NOT a pleasant experience.)
So what makes these peppers so difficult to handle? Capsaicin. This is the ingredient in peppers that make them hot, and habeneros have the highest levels of all peppers. Heat is measured in Scovilles. This scale ranges from sweet bell peppers at 0 and Japanese Chilis at 20,000 all the way up to habaneros that can reach 350,000 scovilles. Pretty hot stuff. This ingredient has been extracted for years for medical purposes as well. It's the key ingredient in topical ointments for sore muscles, like Ben Gay. How is it that something like this is safe to eat? You eat very small doses. The habanero is most commonly used in sauces, chilis, salsas and seasonings. It is not normally eaten raw, unless you are Adam Richman from Man vs. Food and have some sort of death wish.
Now, the important stuff- how to prevent the burning pain from handling these hotties. First thing's first- wear powder-free latex gloves. No joke. This is the safest and most sure-fire way to prevent any unnecessary injuries or discomfort. I recommend everyone have some on hand in their kitchen for moments like this. (I say this knowing perfectly well I don't have any in my kitchen right now, but do as I say, not as I do. I always intend to keep a stash but haven't gotten to it yet.) If you do find yourself without gloves and decide to start chopping anyway, here are some tips that may help alleviate the burn:
- Vinegar- Pour vinegar over your hands to break up the pepper oil and then wash with soap and water. You will likely have to keep repeating this.
- Milk- It works for calming the burn when you eat hot foods so why not for your hands. Soak your hands in a bowl of milk.
- Citrus- Rub lemon or lime juice over your hands then wash with soap and water