Anyone who has ever taken a bite of a super hot pepper knows that finding quick relief from the pain is difficult.
You may know that ice cream, milk and other dairy products will help lessen the burn but reaching for water is probably one of the worst antidotes.
Why is that?
A new video from Reactions Everyday Chemistry, American Chemical Society’s YouTube channel explains that it's all about the chemical reaction.
Inside chili peppers, there’s a chemical compound called capsaicin that produces a violent, burning sensation when it comes into contact with human tissue. Fun fact, capsaicin is also the main ingredient in many pepper sprays.
When a food containing capsaicin hits your tongue, a TRPV1 pain receptor (the same type of receptor that senses when a food is too hot with heat or too acidic) binds with the capsaicin molecule, sending a message to your brain that you just ate something you probably shouldn’t and kicks in the pain receptors. The more capsaicin that's in a pepper, which is measured by Scoville units, the more intense ones reaction will be. Your nose may start running, your eyes may water and you may even start sweating as your body tries to purge the capsaicin.
Capsaicin has non-polar molecules in it, which can only dissolve with other non-polar molecules. Water is made of polar molecules, which means not only will it not provide a cooling effect—even if it’s in ice form—it actually spreads the capsaicin molecules around, making your mouth feel even hotter.
"Drinking water after eating a hot pepper is like mixing oil and water. It won't work out that well," explains the narrator.
The molecules in milk (and other dairy products) are non-polar which help to actually dissolve the capsaicin molecules in your mouth. The casein protein in milk helps dissolve the capsaicin, too.
So next time to you bite off more spice than you can chew, try to get a class of milk at the ready and just say to water until the stinging subsides.