Avoiding the Ouch: El Codo on How to Prevent Chile Burns

A Mexican dish without chile is as sad as mashed potatoes without butter. But the fun stops if you handle chiles and then accidentally touch your eye. As you may have noticed, the oil in a chile that makes it taste hot can also induce a chemical burn to the toughest skin on your hands. Even the mildest chile has had me running for a faucet, and the hotter ones dredged up expletives I hadn’t used in years.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? JUST WASH YOUR HANDS, RIGHT?

Wrong. I’ve tried every bath, dish and laundry soap known to Mexico. I’ve washed my hands three times, waited four hours and accidentally touched my eye and YOW! Washing hands reduces the amount of contamination but it does not reduce it enough – not by a long shot. The damned oil just doesn’t go away.

I could wear gloves, but they themselves get contaminated. I could theoretically bring some industrial solvent from the U.S.A. I could theoretically do a lot of things, including remember to have any of these bright-ideas available when I handle chilies.

But no. No weird chemicals or safety wear. I need to get the damned chile oil off my hands with something that’s available everywhere in Mexico. Something cheap! Damnit, something that’s found here in the kitchen, within distance of a blind stagger!

¡VINÁGRE!

photo courtesy of André Karwath

It works like magic. I wash my hands with soap and water, rinse, then splash on the vinegar and rub it into my hands, then rinse in water again. I’ve tried this neuter-the-chile trick with grain (white), apple cider (vinagre de manzana) and balsamic vinegar, and they all work.

A BETTER THAN NOTHING TIP FOR CHILE IN THE EYE

Flood the eye with milk. Goat, cow, it doesn’t matter. If that doesn’t work, you have my sympathy!

 PS: My neighbor told me this morning “¡Si Sirve!”

About Kelly Nowicki