Chili Pepper Eye

Birds Eye Chili’s with Thai Basil – Photo by Kerry Kaufman

I was carefully slicing chilis for our favorite Tofu with Spicy Lime Dip as our friends were about to pop by.  I finished preparing a few snacks, then went to get myself cleaned up. I was putting my contact lenses in when suddenly I felt a blast of heat as the lens touched my eye.  I screeched as my eye ejected the lens and tears furiously poured out of my burning eye. Frantically, I tried flushing my eye with cold water which did nothing to ease my pain. All I could do is writhe in agony until my (now very red) eye worked to naturally expel the spicy oils. The pain seemed to linger much too long but finally, my eye cleared and felt normal again.

Later, relaying this most unpleasant incident to Jack, he one-upped me with his story about making curry with his mom, Jai. He was only 7 years old and was using a large mortar and pestle to crush chili’s with various rhizomes and roots creating a fresh curry paste.

Things can get messy since it’s a challenge to keep all the ingredients in the mortar. Young Jack recklessly bashed at the ingredients, and every now and then bits of the soon-to-be paste were flung out of the mortar. Inevitably, with food splashing around, a hunk of curry paste flew out and projected right into his eye! Now, I’m thinking that this would have been exponentially worse than the wee bit of oily residue I got in my eye, I mean, his eye has just made contact with chili pith and an array of powerful sensory stimulants. All he could do was flush the matter out with water and wait while his eye cried out the spicy oils.

Afterwards, Jack’s mom taught him the important skill of using one hand to part-cover the mortar while bashing with the pestle in the other. The new practice worked well to keep the majority of the curry paste in its place and it is one he continues to use today.

Still, one problem presents itself with this technique.  While working the ingredients, the paste comes up the side of the mortar and touches the hand before it turns back down to the bottom of the mortar. After touching the same part of the hand repeatedly, it starts to burn. The hot sensation sticks around, builds, and becomes extremely uncomfortable, even painful. Thankfully, there is a remedy!  This can be used anytime you have burning hands or fingers from handling fresh chili’s. Simply immerse your hand in a bag of uncooked rice and hold there until the pain subsides. Miraculous, right?  This hack is not just for fixing wet smart phones anymore!

So what if it’s your mouth that’s on fire? Unlike what many people may think your cold watery drink will not do much to help. The spicy capsaicin found in the pith is oily. Water will spread the oil around your mouth, increasing the burning sensation. You’ll be much better off drinking something like milk which will bind with the oils, helping to wash them down. Eating fresh Thai basil can also help to offer some relief.

 Interesting Finds:

  • Capsaicin is created in our bodies when we feel pain. Research is being done to figure out how to block the signals transmitted to the brain by capsaicin, in order stop pain. Its so interesting because there is potential here for a non-addictive pain killer!


Health Benefits:

  • Chili’s have more Vitamin C than oranges giving our immune systems a boost (just one chili has more then 100% RDI).
  •  Chili’s are high in Vitamin B6 (used in energy production, nerve function, and red blood cell production).
  • Chili’s have an anti-microbial function, which is useful  in the tropics, where heat-loving bacteria can cause food to spoil.
  • Capsaicin stimulates metabolism and turns on thermogenesis (creating energy from burning fat).


In cooking:

  • In Southern Thailand the preference is Prik Ki Nu which translates to Rat Dropping Chili (because of its appearance only!). They are tinier and hotter than the Birds Eye Chili. We have rarely been able to find the Rat Dropping Chili in Calgary so we go for the Birds Eye Chili, which is easily found in almost any grocery store.

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