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: natural yoghurt and cucumber.
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.
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.
Alongside milk, yoghurt is widely regarded to be the most effective salve for chilli-scorched taste-buds. (Why else do you think it's served as a side dish in Indian restaurants?) Yoghurt is fatty, acidic and high in the protein casein, which makes it highly effective at counteracting against chilli burn. In addition, it's traditionally served at below room temperature, which adds an extra layer of relief.
If you watch the above clip closely you'll notice I'm grimacing throughout. This had very little to do with the chilli and almost everything to do with the cooling remedy. I hate yoghurt. Absolutely abhor it. The flavour, consistency and after-taste all make my stomach curl in revulsion. Also, the whole "live and active cultures" thing kind of grosses me out. On a culinary scale, I'd rate it below human placenta pizza.
But if I step outside my own personal prejudice for a moment, I have to admit this is an excellent cooling solution. Unlike milk, yoghurt can be left on the tongue and savored/endured until the burning goes away.
Effectiveness rating: 8/10 (personal score: 0/10)
Cucumber is another option that you regularly see at spicy restaurants; it's offered as a condiment with various Asian dishes and is sometimes combined with yoghurt as a palate-cleansing dip, such as tzatziki and raita. It can also be served raw and cut into wafer-thin slices, which is a popular method in Indonesia and Thailand.
Meh. This was a fairly so-so solution that provided around the same amount of relief as water. (This isn't too surprising when you consider the average cucumber comprises 96 per cent H2O). That said, the icy temperature did dull the heat for a few seconds and the subtle flavour works well with most spicy dishes.
Effectiveness rating: 6/10
Stay tuned for next week's finale where we crown the winner, discuss alternatives and try the dreaded Trinidad Scorpion pepper rated at 1.5 million Scoville units. Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies...