I work with chillies every single day of my life. Nope, I’m not exaggerating. It comes with the territory when you marry an Indian. Although I’m extremely careful to not touch my eyes during the cooking process I recently got jalapeño juice in the eye. Ouch.
Jalapeños, and any other spicy peppers for that matter, cause pain because they naturally contain a chemical compound called capsaicin. This substance irritates the tissues of mammals (like homo sapiens, for instance) but not birds or other beneficial seed-spreading creatures. The theory is that the chemical evolved as a defence mechanism to keep hot peppers’ seeds from getting ground up and annihilated by mammalian molars. So do people who heap on the hot sauce have a long-lost avian ancestor? Maybe not, but they could be a bit masochistic because capsaicin is actually felt using the pain-sensing nerve system rather than the taste buds. Hence your eye can burn relentlessly in the presence of jalapeño juice but can’t appreciate the fresh and subtle flavours of a cucumber mask.
But back to my still-stinging eye. This type of emergency calls for quick action and here are two of my favourite remedies just in case you end up with jalapeño in your eye (or any other type of chilli for that matter).
What To Do If You Get Jalapeño In The Eye
Method 1: plain cow's milk
Plain cow’s milk is great for combating the heat of chilies. Wash your hands thoroughly then soak a cotton ball in cold milk and place it over your affected eye. You could also dip your fingers in a bit of milk.
This method works because capsaicin is fat soluble and gets broken down by dairy. For this same reason, a glass of milk is a good antidote for the macho chilli-eater who’s starting to look a bit singed around the edges. Water will just spread the oils (and the pain they inflict) across a wider area, while milk will neutralise them. But it won’t do much to assuage the sting of the swaggering chilli defier’s wounded pride.
The only downside is that it can get a little messy (although putting a cotton ball soaked in cold milk is quite refreshing). I prefer the next method or using a combination of both.
Method 2: dish soap and baby shampoo
Wash your hands with dish soap very well. Use a nail brush, if at all possible, to clean under the nails and rub your fingertips. Then wash the affected eye with baby shampoo - don’t use the pads of your fingers!
Instead, make a fist and wash your eye with the back of your hand, using the back of the index finger to rub your eye. Repeat. Then use a saline rinse in your eye. You should feel instant relief.
What do you do when you get jalapeño or chilli juice in the eye? Do you have any tips to share? Tell us on Facebook.
Opinions vary as to whether putting milk in your eye is the right thing to do…what you should definitely not do is use water, as this will spread the burning sensation around. If in doubt, a sterile eye wash is the best option.
In order to avoid getting jalapeños in your eye in the first place, it is important to know how to handle them correctly. Make sure you wash all knifes and cooking utensils thoroughly before and after working with chillies. Use disposable gloves when preparing jalapeños and, if you’re handling even hotter chillies or are particularly sensitive, consider wearing goggles as well.
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