Chilli Challenge #3: Fighting Fire With Hot Water And Sugar

What’s the most effective way to stop chilli from burning a hole in your taste-buds? In a bid to find out, I’ll be sticking an entire chilli into my mouth each day this week, followed by a popular cooling remedy. On today’s menu: hot water and sugar.

According to scientific research, the sensation caused by certain hot peppers is similar to being rudely groped at the equivalent of 50 taps to the skin every second. In other words, it can really slap you about and has been known to reduce grown men into blubbering wrecks.

So what’s the most effective way to stop this spicy assault once it’s started? That’s precisely what the Lifehacker Chilli Challenge aims to find out. Each day this week, I’ll be testing the cooling ability of various foods and liquids after munching an entire chilli. The things we do for our readers.

Testing Methodology

For each experiment, I’ve endeavored to use chillies that are roughly the same size and shape. They’re also from the same in-store batch and I’ll be chewing them an even number of times. While it’s impossible to ensure an identical capsaicin volume/heat rating across each chilli, any difference should be fairly negligible.

Some cooling remedies are supposed to be ingested before eating spicy food, while others are more effective directly after. To make things fair, I’ll be tasting each solution twice — ten seconds before I eat the chilli and ten seconds after. We’ve also tried to focus on feasible, meal-friendly options that are easy to get hold of.

Each day I’ll be testing not one, but two different solutions — to give my mouth time to recover, I’ve spaced these about an hour apart.

Hot water

Fight fire with fire: that’s the slightly dubious principle behind this particular “cooling” remedy. According to multiple chilli aficionados, a swig of steaming hot water can distract your taste buds from the spicy burning sensation while the water does its job flushing out the capsaicin. Think of it like ripping a band-aid off — a quick flash of pain for instant relief.

On paper this method sort of makes sense: hot water is a lot more effective at breaking away oily residue than cold water, which should translate to a quickly cleaned palate. On the other hand, adding a double-dose of heat when your mouth is already on fire seems bonkers. So does it work, or not?

Click on the audio icon if you want to enjoy my suffering.

Nope. Of all the remedies tried thus far, this is the only one that genuinely made me feel ill. At the time of writing, it’s still pretty touch-and-go as to whether I’m going to hurl or not. [Update: I didn’t hurl.] While the burning sensation did noticeably dissipate, the nausea just wasn’t worth it.

Effectiveness rating: 1/10


This is a popular folk remedy that chiefly relies on distracting your taste buds. The sweetness of the sugar sends mixed signals to your brain which helps to dull the spicy food. At least, that’s the idea in theory. Some people recommend a sugar water solution while others prefer sugar cubes or granules. Having already tried a water remedy (which failed miserably) I decided to go with the latter:

This one was just weird. The mouthful of sugar definitely helped to distract from the burn, with the relief increasing as it slowly dissolved in my mouth. However, I was acutely aware of the heat smoldering away in the background and the pain returned as soon as the sugar was gone. It’s also a pretty crappy flavour combination — unlike some of the other remedies I’ve tried, it’s definitely not something I’d want to partake in while eating a spicy meal.

Effectiveness rating: 5/10

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Chilli Challenge where I test yoghurt and cucumber!

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