Spicy science: why peppers burn & how to stop the heat

News

Spicy food can be just as divisive as the topics you were told not to bring up at dinner.

Some people can’t stand it, while others specifically seek it out! 

The Charleston Spice Company create spice blends for every palette, but when it comes to the hot stuff, they use peppers to give it that kick. Some are locally grown, coming in different shapes, sizes, and, more importantly, different levels of spiciness-classified by Scoville units.

“Basically it’s a measurement of how hot a pepper is,” says Caitlin Tuten-Rhodes, the owner of the Charleston Spice Company. “The bigger the number the hotter the heat. Like smoked paprika has 250. So that’s not spicy.”

On the other end of the scale- the world’s hottest pepper. The Carolina Reaper measures in at an astounding 1-2 million Scoville Units- nearly 200 times spicier than a jalapeno! 

“The Carolina Reaper is just off the charts.”

Caitlin Tuten-Rhodes, Charleston Spice Company

To explain how it, and other spicy peppers, get their heat, I’ll take a bite… for science. But I’ll settle for a Habanero.

The burn comes almost immediately as capacasin, the chemical that makes things spicy, binds to receptors sensitive to temperature- tricking the brain that I ate something hot, which triggers that burning sensation.  

A habanero, the source of my pain.
It’s quite spicy, measuring in at 100,000- 350,000 Scoville Units.

Many people love this feeling, but sometimes it can be too much. To dial back the heat, steer clear of water. Capacasin is oil based, and as we all know- oil and water don’t mix (most of the time).

You’ll just spread the heat around and make it worse. Instead, use dairy! Casein, the protein in milk, helps break the bond between capacasin and those receptors. By the way, plant based beverages don’t contain this casein and may be less effective, but they’re still better than water as the fat and sugar in them can temporarily neutralize the spice. 

These smoothing solutions can only help so much when battling the hottest peppers as they contain almost as much capacasin as pepper spray- warranting precautions when working with them! 

Tuten-Rhodes and her mother, Garnette Tuten, wear gloves, eye protection, and even eye protection when they create their hottest blends with the Carolina Reaper- which is roughly 20 times spicier than the habanero I’m struggling with.

If you want to see if you can handle spice better than me, or are interested in some of the less spicy, but still delicious blends created by the Charleston Spice Company- head over to their website!

Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

DOWNLOAD THE APP!

Join our daily newsletter!

Click for latest news and information

2021 Hurricane Ready Guide

TRENDING HEADLINES