Science Project:

Feeling the Burn: Taming the Effects of Spicy Food

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Research Questions:

Which remedy cools the mouth fastest after eating a piece of habanero pepper?

Consuming spicy foods can be very uncomfortable. Sometimes the burning in your mouth after eating a pepper can even become almost unbearable! There are many purported remedies that may or may not help to reduce the heat felt after ingesting a spicy food. This experiment will test the efficacy of some of these remedies.

Materials:

  • Habanero pepper
  • Stop watch
  • Notebook for recording results
  • Toothpaste
  • Milk
  • Ice cream
  • Bread
  • Olive oil
  • Any other “remedies” you encounter in your research.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Cut a habanero pepper into equal sized pieces.
  2. Ask a test subject to eat one piece of pepper.
  3. Give the test subject one teaspoon of toothpaste.
  4. Start the stopwatch.
  5. Ask the subject to tell you when the burning sensation has subsided.
  6. Record the elapsed time.
  7. Wait 5-10 minutes between each test.
  8. Repeat test, this time asking the test subject to swish his or her mouth with olive oil after eating the pepper.
  9. Repeat test, have the test subject eat one tablespoon of ice cream after eating the pepper.
  10. Repeat test, have the test subject drink half a cup of milk after eating the pepper.
  11. Repeat test, have the test subject eat one piece of bread after eating the pepper.
  12. Evaluate any other techniques you encounter in your research!
  13. Repeat all of the steps for many different subjects.

Sample table for recording data:

Time to cool mouth (seconds)

Subject 1

Subject 2

Subject 3

Subject 4

Subject 5

Subject 6

Remedy 1: Toothpaste

Remedy 2: Olive oil

Remedy 3: Ice Cream

Remedy 4: Milk

Remedy 5: Bread

Terms/Concepts: What makes foods spicy?; What are different ways to cool down the mouth after eating spicy food?

References:

Scientific American: Ask the Experts. “Why is it that eating spicy, 'hot' food causes the same physical reactions as does physical heat (burning and sweating, for instance)?”

HelpGlobe.com “What's the best remedy when your tongue is burning from super hot spicy food?”

Author: Megan Doyle, Ph.D.
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