Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lesson Learned 1: And it Burns, Burns, Burns Like a Ring of Fire

Capsaicin--the component of peppers that determines their hotness a.k.a. how much pain they inflict. I knew that when handling extra hot peppers, gloves were suggested; however, I never dreamed an innocent bell pepper could cause so much pain!

As I was making dinner the other night, I decided that I wanted to harvest the seeds from the pepper I was using (from an amazing farm in West Virginia; Kitchen's Orchard), so I could plant the seeds in the spring. After cutting off the top of the pepper I simply used my hand/fingernails to scrape the seeds from the membrane. I really didn't think much of it, until about 15 minutes later when my finger started to burn. At first, I figured I must have accidentally touched something hot on the stove, but then it started to spread, and the pain quickly intensified.

Through process of elimination, I figured it had to be something with the peppers. I tried scrubbing my hands with soap and water to no avail, so I did what all good children do: called my mother. After chastising me for cutting up peppers without gloves, we argued for awhile as I tried to explain that I was merely handling innocent little bell peppers! Anyway, she told me to go soak my hand in milk.

This alleviated the pain for a bit, but then the milk started to get warm. I placed the milk in the freezer to chill, only to find my hand virtually aflame. I figured there had to be a more immediate solution out there somewhere, so with my one working hand I did some Googling. I found remedies ranging from using alcohol (both externally and internally) to making biscuits (something to do with kneading causing pores to open and the flour and the shortening extracting the capsaicin). I decided to forgo the drinking and the baking and try out a bevy of household products instead. Clorox, rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, olive oil, lemon juice, toothpaste--I was willing to try ANYTHING.

By the time I went through virtually half the items in my kitchen and bathroom, my hand was REALLY on fire and the pain was starting to creep under my fingernails. It was back to the trusty bowl of milk for me. Four hours of soaking later, my hand still hurt, but I needed to go to bed. I didn't think keeping the bowl of milk on my nightstand was a viable option, so I ended up sleeping with an ice pack bound to my hand with a Pucci scarf. The next morning showering was quite a feat, and driving to work was sheer agony. I spent most of the day at work with my hand in a plastic bag of milk: do I even need to elaborate on my co-workers' reactions?
My hand finally started to feel normal by late afternoon, but what baffled me most was what went wrong? I frequently cook with peppers, and I've never had this problem before. Plus, bell peppers are one of the mildest of the pepper family! Amidst my remedy research, I found my answer. Apparently the largest concentration of capsaicin is in the membrane that holds the seeds in place. This would explain why it never was an issue; I had never tried to harvest seeds from peppers. Needless to say, I will definitley wear gloves next time! Talking about learning a lesson the hard way...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

that is so crazy! who knew a pepper could do that!