The general rule-of-thumb for Asian chillies is that the smaller they are, the spicier they taste. For example, I wouldn’t want to mess around with the tiny red chilli padi but I’m not too concerned with big fat green chillies. Especially the deep-fried ones served with vadai that I munch in between bites of the oily doughy snack.
The Wife has been using Korean green chillies for various home-cooked dishes and they’ve been pretty mild-tasting. So when she bought a bag of similar Indian green chillies from our nearby NTUC, she didn’t think too much about them.
She chopped them up roughly and mixed them into a home-made wok of mala xiang guo using the spicy paste kindly provided by her good friend Heidi Lau. As always, she soaped and washed her hands after chopping the chillies.
So far, so good.
The mala paste itself was fairly spicy and the dried red chillies that came in the packet increased the heat level somewhat. When I bit into the green chillies, I didn’t find them terribly spicy but The Wife mentioned that she did have a few mouthfuls which packed quite a punch.
She also noticed that her left hand was starting to tingle a bit, but it wasn’t anything to worry about and after washing the dishes, the tingling subsided. We lazed about on the sofa and watched our usual Korean variety shows while scrolling Facebook and the internet. After a while, The Wife went to take her shower.
And that’s when it started.
The warm water from the shower somehow increased the pain in her left hand and she washed it several times with soap, and then shampoo, and then body foam. Nothing helped.
She tried rubbing it with toothpaste, washing (again) with dish detergent and that didn’t help either.
Time to consult her other good friend, Dr G.
She soaked her hand in cold milk for 30 minutes, and while the cold numbed her hand and lessened the pain, the burning sensation came back after the milk warmed up. Things were getting worse, and the pain was slowing reaching an 8 (out of 10) and feeling like hundreds of needles were pricking her skin.
She tried rubbing her hands with alcohol and made a baking soda paste and coated her hand, letting it sit for a while and then washing it off.
It was clear that the capsaicin present in the chillies was causing the pain, and it was time to “know your enemy” and attack it with science.
The home remedy treatment plan was:
- Soak hand in warm water. This step was quite painful, but unfortunately necessary, since the capsaicin had most likely entered the pores of the skin by then. (Science: warm water opens up pores to allow access to the entrenched chemical.)
- Rub hand thoroughly with oil. Make sure that the liquid covers the entire surface and allowing it to enter the open pores. We used grapeseed oil but olive oil would probably have worked too. (Science: capsaicin is soluble in oil and binds with the grapeseed oil, lifting it away from the skin.)
- Wash hand thoroughly with dish detergent. To remove the oil that has bound with the capsaicin. (Science: dish detergent is particularly good at removing oil from surfaces.)
The process was repeated three times and it seemed to work because after ten minutes, the pain in two of the fingers started going away and within 30 minutes, all the pain had dissipated.
So, the moral of this story is to never underestimate big green chillies, especially those from India. And if you ever have to cut them, it’s a good idea to wear gloves before you do.
Also, science good.