Hot Seat


The other day when I was in Elmhurst, Queens, eating a darn good (and spicy) Thai meal, I got a tiny cut on my tongue from a crab shell. I didn’t feel the wound being inflicted, but over the next 20 minutes, the satisfying warmth in my mouth became an intolerable inferno. I didn’t understand why I was so affected until I looked in the mirror (in the bathroom) and saw the bloody cut. I ended up eating so much ice that I filled my belly. What a bummer!

Cause and effect: Chile seeds were not the true offenders that evening. This role goes to a substance called capsaicin found in the veins and membranes of peppers. How hot can things get? Well, there’s actually a scale. Heat is measured in Scoville units. A bell pepper rates a whopping 0. A mild poblano is in the 1,000 to 1,500 range. My little Thai bird chiles hit between 50,000 and 100, 000. The hottest recorded pepper, according to Guinness World Records, is the Red Savina, a vicious strain of habanero that tips the scales between 350,000 and 577,000.

911: To fix a burn, order milk. Full fat, if you can, and feel free to go for a glob of cream or even a pat of butter. Fat coats the burn and douses the fire. I chose ice because I’m a chilehead and like a little burn.

The myth: People think eating bread or rice will cool a burning mouth. I find it to be the equivalent of placing hot coals on your tongue.

The lesson: Give in when overheated and go for the milk. And be careful to drink from a different side of the glass after the first burn—the area where you first gulped for relief is now loaded with capsaicin and you’ll start the whole cycle again.

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