Happy thursday again everyone! This time we’re going to be continuing our exploration of chilli science with a theory that was brought to my attention by someone in the comments called Spex.
The theory that it’s not the fats in milk, or even the lactose I believed, but a protein named “casein” that stops the burn.
Unfortunately, their links, just like all the others I could find on the subject, included glaring inaccuracies that, while irrelevant to point at hand, made me question their legitimacy. This one in particular struck me as odd, since any site detailing capsaicin and its related compounds should know that pepper spray routinely uses a related chemical called “nonivamide” or “PAVA” over actual capsaicin.
But, ignoring that, the science of how casein could dissolve capsaicin seemed both sound and well explained.
So I decided that, to be perfectly sure, I’d have to test it myself.
This little bottle contains a habanero sauce from the South Devon Chilli Farm that I’d say sets the absolute upper limit of a three point five on my scale. I went ahead and downed a fully loaded teaspoon of it.
Then, to make sure everything would stay down, I took a moment to let the hiccups subside, before taking a small sip from one of two glasses:
The first time round, this was the right most one, the regular, semi-skimmed, full lactose milk.
The moment it hit my mouth, the heat was gone almost completely and it didn’t come back for a minute or so afterwards. A minute in which I’d occasionally get another hiccup, dispite the lack of any detectable chilli, implying that either some remained further in or the reflex hadn’t completely stopped from before. I can’t really say which.
The heat did eventually return but it was so diminished when it did so that I can say, with no uncertainty, that regular, semi-skimmed milk deserves a rating of
Since my milk didn’t face the heat right away, it had already dropped a tad before the test, so said milk never saw the full fire but, since the heat returned, it seems fairly safe to say that it could not have handled it.
But we all know that milk works. Some of us even know, from experience, that fully skimmed milk works. Does lactose free milk?
Half an hour later, when my mouth had completely calmed down, I returned to answer that question. I downed another spoonful of sauce, waited another few seconds, then took a similar sip from the lactose free glass.
It was weird.
It was like milk, except without any of the sweetness. The sweetness I didn’t know was there before.
It’s not sour. It’s not bitter. It’s just not sweet. A very bizarre revelation.
But, in terms of calming the mouth, it was exactly the same. A
At least, it was at first.
Oddly enough, the heat returned just a little quicker this time, as if that unseen sweetness was holding it off. A property that sugar is well known for.
Not that sugar actually affects capsaicin at all. The two sensations just compete for recognition in the brain and it helps reduce the amount of heat you can perceive.
It is for this reason that many people swear by sugar cubes, or even a squirt of citrus, to dull the pain after something much too hot for them.
But that’s not the end of today’s testing.
While I have proven to myself that it’s not the lactose doing the work of removing the chilli heat and know from past experience that, even without the fat, milk can still help, I’ve done nothing to prove or disprove casein’s effectiveness.
So I bought some protein powder.
According to the label, this stuff is 100% casein, nothing else. Sadly, however, upon getting it home, I discovered this ingredients list:
So this isn’t going to be a perfect test but, I can tell you now, the resulting drink did very little.
Rather than from casein removing the burn, the tiny amount of relief I got was purely from how attention-grabbing its thick, grainy, gloopy and disgusting texture was. When I really concentrated, I could feel that all the chilli heat was still present in my mouth.
This casein powder did nothing, affording it a pitiful
A result I really wasn’t expecting, considering how reasonable the explanation put forth by the countless articles I’d come across had seemed.
But this doesn’t actually disprove casein’s effectiveness. It’s unlikely but, as I mentioned just a moment ago, there are other ingredients in here. It is possible that one of those is binding to it in a way that prevents it from working.
At this point, though, it seems much more plausible that it’s simply something else in dairy that does the job.
So, sadly, this test has not been completely conclusive. I cannot say with any certainty what it is in dairy that dulls the burn. All I can say for sure is that it’s not lactose and that, while fat might help, it’s certainly not the be all and end all as skimmed milk does still work.
Hopefully I will have chance to address this issue again at a later date because I don’t know about you but I’m not satisfied with this lack of answers.
Stay tuned for next time,
Coran “Spicefreak” Sloss.
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