Chile Myths

Laura Marrich
3 min read
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Late September. You can’t drive down the street without bumping into a roadside chile roaster, blistering New Mexico’s favorite fruit in big metal baskets. But before you get elbows-deep into a fresh batch of red or green goodness, let’s separate the fact from the fiction. Here are a few of your most frequently asked questions about chile. Special thanks to the Chile Pepper Institute and for being invaluable resources!

Where does the heat come from? The seeds, right? Or is it the membrane?

It’s the membrane. Seeds don’t produce capsaicin (the hot stuff), although they do absorb some from the surrounding tissues of the pepper by the time the chile hits your plate.

Is it true that you can build up tolerance to capsaicin over time?

It looks that way. "Chile heads" that demand hotter and hotter chiles aren’t just being macho—they’ve actually built up a resistance to the stuff.

How long does roasted and peeled green chile last in the freezer?

About six months. If you plan on using small quantities over time, chop your chiles and freeze them overnight in ice cube trays, then repackage in freezer bags or air-tight containers. Use a combination of heavy aluminum foil and air-tight plastic bags or containers to guard against freezer burn.

Will freezing make my chile hotter?

No. You’re not crazy for thinking it does, though. Freezing ruptures the cell walls of chile, which can release capsaicin stored in parts of the chile into the whole batch—the heat is better distributed but not actually increased.

Help! My tongue is on fire!

Drink some milk, spoon on some sour cream or dig into the molten cheese core of your relleno . Casein, a protein found in dairy products, has the power to strip the capsaicin right off your pain receptors. Alcohol (that is, beer) and carbonated drinks (that is, Coke) won’t help—they can irritate the sensitive membranes in your mouth and make the heat feel more intense.

I peeled some chiles without gloves on … I think I’m dying.

Don’t touch your eyes or face! And wait to go to the bathroom until your hands are burn-free. (Who knows what other sensitive areas you’ll ignite?) Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, then apply some rubbing alcohol to the affected area. Soak your mangled mitt in a bowl of milk until it feels better.

OK, I accidentally touched my eyes.

Wash your hands thoroughly and put on some clean rubber gloves. If you’re wearing contacts, remove them and throw them away. Flush your eyes with saline solution until they feel better. Bet you’ll never do that again!
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