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Hot peppers are an ingredient commonly used in various types of cuisine to add a spicy flavor to the dish. There are many varieties of hot peppers, or chilies, each with their own appearance, flavor, and level of hotness. The hotness, or burning sensation, is the spicy flavor of the pepper that is felt in the mouth when the pepper is eaten. However, the burning sensation can also be felt on the skin, as may occur when handling hot peppers.
Depending on the variety of hot pepper, contact with the skin can lead to serious discomfort. If one must handle hot peppers in the preparation of spicy cuisine, certain precautions can be taken to prevent discomfort. It is first important to know what parts of the pepper to avoid when one must handle hot peppers.
Most of the hotness of a pepper is in the inner veins, also called the ribs. This area is close to the seeds of the pepper, which often absorb this hotness, and can transfer it to the mouth or skin. These are the areas of the pepper that, when they come in contact with the skin, are most likely to lead to discomfort.
What makes a hot pepper hot is a mixture of chemical compounds called capsacinoids. This mixture of compounds is called capsacin. Capsacin is a strong alkaloid that causes irritation when it comes in contact with the skin and mucous membranes. Hotter peppers contain higher amounts of capsacin, and the difference can be noted whether one chooses to eat or simply handle hot peppers, as in preparation of food.
The most likely way to come in contact with capsacin is to come in contact with the juices of a hot pepper, as the juices contain oils which, in turn, contain the capcasin. The waxy outer coating of a hot pepper usually prevents an intact pepper from transferring capsacin-laden juices to the skin. Thus, to handle hot peppers without cutting them is relatively safe.
The surest way to handle hot peppers safely is to create a physical barrier between the skin and the hot pepper. This ensures that none of the juice from the pepper is absorbed by the skin. Latex gloves can be worn to handle hot peppers safely. Another way to handle hot peppers safely is to do so under running water. This way, a good amount of the spicy juices are washed away from the skin rather than seeping in and causing a burning sensation.
To safely handle hot peppers in dried form, one can worry less about coming in contact with high amounts of the capsacin-laden juices. However, even though most of the water has been evaporated from the pepper, the oils remain, so caution should be exercised. In the case of using chili pepper, as well as particularly dried out hot peppers, one should avoid letting tiny particles float up into the nose and eyes.
When working with milder peppers, remember not all skin is as tough as your hands and wash well. Nothing worse then going to the bathroom after dinner and remembering exactly why you are supposed to wash your hands ;-)
To clean hot peppers, cut them in half lengthwise, then use a melon scoop to remove seeds and vein, starting from the opposite end of the stem.
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