“Mouth on fire”, intoxication, sweating… how to recognize if a pepper is too hot ?

“Mouth on fire”, intoxication, sweating… how to recognize if a pepper is too hot ?

La consommation de piment peut être dangereuse. Unsplash – Ryan Quintal

Le 11 septembre 2023, une chips ultra-épicée a été la cause du décès d’un garçon de 14 ans, au Massachussetts. On vous explique comment reconnaître un piment trop piquant pour éviter ce genre de drame.

In France, it is rare to eat chili peppers. However, its consumption can be dangerous if it is eaten in too large quantities and too spicy. On September 11, 2023, Harris Wolobah, a 14-year-old American, died after participating in a challenge to eat an ultra-spicy potato chip.

The autopsy of the young boy, published this Thursday, May 16, 2024, revealed a "cardioventilatory arrest due to the ingestion of ;rsquo;a food substance with a high concentration of capsaicin", an active component of chili pepper.

Several varieties of peppers cultivated

From its Latin name Capsicum, pepper includes several thousand cultivated varieties, of which 2 300 are listed in the European catalog of species. "And the number is increasing because the varieties of peppers cross easily", rejoices Nicolas Dochter, founder and director of the site sauce- piquante.fr, from RMC Conso.

5 major species exist:

Capsicum annuum (Espelette, Jalapeño, Chipotle and peppers); Capsicum baccatum; Capsicum chinense (Carolina Reaper, among the strongest in the world or Bhut Jolokia); Capsicum frutescens, also called Cayenne pepper, "Bird" or Tabasco" used for the sauce of the same name; Capsicum pubescens which includes relatively hot peppers.

L’Scoville scale

In 1912, the American pharmacologist Wilbur Licoln Scoville gave his name to a system for measuring the strength of chili peppers: the Scoville scale. This is a scale where each pepper is ranked between 0 and 10, each rating is accompanied by a "neutral” to "explosive" then graduated in Scoville units, ranging from 0 to over a million.

For example, at the bottom of the scale, we find peppers and higher up, we find Espelette pepper. Beyond a million units, we find the Carolina Reaper, classified as "dangerous". The Scoville scale is made by soaking a whole fresh, pureed pepper in a mixture of sugar water, explains Nicolas Dochter.

Regarding the case of the young American, the latter had ingested a spicy chip (Carolina Reape) whose rating was on average around 1.5 million d’ units on the Scoville scale.

Is there a medical contraindication?

Nicolas Dochter explains to our colleagues that he is not aware, to date, of any medical contraindication to the consumption of chili pepper. "The real risk lies in drinking hot liquid immediately after consuming a chili pepper. We no longer feel our mouth and drinking a hot drink can hurt us", explains the latter.

Consuming too much chili pepper is not recommended in the long term, as it can increase the risk of stomach cancer.

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