Chilli Challenge Post-Mortem: Lessons Learned

Last week, I took part in my own personal Chilli Challenge which involved eating whole red peppers and testing different cooling remedies; from milk to hot water. Was milk the winner? How bad were the stomach cramps? Has my rectum recovered? All these questions and more are answered below.

For those who missed last week’s posts, the Chilli Challenge was an attempt to identify the most effective way to stop the burning sensation caused by spicy food. This involved testing the cooling ability of various foods and liquids after eating an entire chilli. As you’d expect, the results were variable.

Here are a few things I learned during the course of the experiment:

White wine works best: Of all the experiments, I found chilled Chardonnay to be the best remedy for burning taste buds. Some chilli aficionados advise against alcohol as it merely dilutes the capsaicin while spreading the oils around your mouth. However, I found it to work surprisingly well. The chilled temperature provided immediate relief and seemed to dull the intensity of the burning. It’s also one of the more plausible options when dining out (i.e. — wine is usually a more acceptable restaurant beverage than milk.)

Milk ain’t all that: Most people swear by full cream milk when it comes to alleviating chilli burn. While it certainly wasn’t the worst solution I tried, it only provided slight relief while inside the mouth — as soon as I swallowed each mouthful the fire reignited with no noticeable drop in intensity. If you’re looking for a dairy solution, yoghurt is definitely the way to go (and that’s coming from a guy who hates yoghurt).

Liquids are better than solids: Liquids have the drawback of spreading capsaicin oils around in your mouth which can make things even more unpleasant; even as they counteract against chilli burn. It is for this reason that some people recommend solid food remedies which don’t cause the spicy oils to envelop the entire mouth. That’s the idea on paper anyway. In reality, none of the solid remedies I tried were particularly effective, with the exception of cucumber which comprises of over 90 per cent water.

Some chillies are ‘more equal’ than others: For the purpose of this experiment, I purchased a punnet of pre-packaged fresh chillies to ensure they came from the same source. I also chewed them an equal number of times and made sure to select peppers that were roughly the same size and shape. Despite these precautions, the heat level did vary slightly from chilli to chilli. I wouldn’t say the difference was enough to effect the outcome of the experiment, but it certainly wasn’t controlled either. C’est la vie.

Eating chillies hurts your gut. (And your butt): By Wednesday, I was suffering from pretty severe stomach cramps that lasted around an hour after ingesting each chilli. I also spent an unusually large amount of time on the toilet. You can infer from that what you will. (On the plus side, I did manage to avoid transferring chilli from my fingers into into my eyes. Hurrah!)

What about the ghost chillies?? On Friday’s Chilli Challenge post, I promised I’d take the testing to the extreme by eating a Trinidad Scorpion pepper rated at 1.5 million Scoville units. Unfortunately, my publisher’s “chilli guy” informed him on the weekend that they were no longer in season. Tsk. But never fear: we’ll be recording the Trinidad challenge as soon as he grows a fresh batch. Consider it a temporary stay of execution.

Last week’s Chilli Challenges in full (click the links to go to each post):

Chilli Challenge #1: Bread And Milk

Chilli Challenge #2: White Wine And Carrot

Chilli Challenge #3: Hot Water And Sugar

Chilli Challenge #4: Yoghurt And Cucumber

Do you know of any additional heat remedies not mentioned in the list above? What do you find works best when you’ve bitten off my chilli than you can chew? Let us know in the comments section below.

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