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Sliced green serrano chili pepper - Mexico 1492

How To Cut Hot Chili Peppers and Not Get Burned

Mirasol, serrano, habanero and chile de arbol - Mexico 1492

Chili peppers are a must in Mexican cuisine, but everyone who had ever chopped some hot chili peppers can tell you how their fingers burned for hours afterwards. Or their eyes. Or mouth. Or nose. (Humans touch their face a lot.)

Doomsday scenario of chili in the eyes aside, cutting hot chili peppers involves a lot of contact with your fingers, and especially if you are removing the seeds or the hot parts of the chili that contain capsaicin*. Not only that the skin on our hands gets exposed to the irritants during the pepper handling - the capsaicin sticks to our skin for hours afterwards causing a burning feeling, no matter how diligently we wash our hands. 

Green serrano chili pepper - fresh, on fire, grilled - Mexico 1492

And here is the master solution to keeping the heat at bay, that we learned from a very knowledgeable lady, Alicia Perez Nieto**: whether you need to slice your chili pepper into smaller pieces or open it up to remove the seeds and hot parts, the best way to protect your fingers involves a rather simple trick and a regular kitchen staple: the cooking oil.

So, before touching any portion of the chili pepper, rub some cooking oil (any kind) on your fingers and palms of your hands. That will create a barrier for capsaicin and avoid direct contact with your skin. Plus, we wouldn't really be touching our face with greasy hands, would we?

Before cutting any hot chili pepper, fresh or grilled, protect your hands with some cooking oil - Mexico 1492

After you wash your hands with soap and remove the oil, the skin underneath will be unharmed and without capsaicin residue to sneak up on you when you’re least expecting.


*Contrary to the popular belief that the chili seeds are source of the heat, they are not - most of the capsaicin, the irritant component of the chili pepper, is being generated in the pith (white soft tissue where the seeds are attached) and the ribs (the whitish-yellowish stringy part inside the pepper, called venas (veins) in Spanish). If you taste the seeds, they may irritate your mouth as well, but that is because they were sitting right next to the capsaicin-filled pith and exposed to the irritant nearby.

** More about Alicia in our upcoming post Salsa Borracha

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