roasted jalapenos from Hatch, New Mexico

Ouch, My hands are burning! – How to get rid of Jalapeno Hands

Jalapeno hands

If you have worked with spicy foods enough, you probably have had at least one time when your hands burned afterwards for hours. This is commonly called jalapeno hands in English, and has caused a lot of pain to many home cooks, and even professional chefs sometimes.

What causes the feeling of spice?

Spice is caused by capsaicin binding to different receptors in your body. They produce a variety of effects, including sweating, vasodilation, and localized pain. Capsaicinoids are oils, which are hydrophobic by nature. This means they don’t mix with water. If you cut peppers and rinse with water, odds are it won’t have much soothing effect.

How to prevent jalapeno hands?

If you have food preparation gloves available, wearing them when you work with spicy food is a great idea. Even if you don’t have them on hand, there are some things you can do to prevent a large heat buildup. One is to frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water. The soap will bring the capsaicin oils up and allow them to be washed off by the water. If you do this immediately after cutting peppers, you might not have any problem. Just don’t forget the soap, as it is the most important part.

Another thing you can do is try not to touch the juicy parts of whatever you cut. If you are working with fresh, unblemished peppers, you can probably do a lot without getting juice on your hands. In general, the outside of a chile pepper doesn’t really have spice, but the inside, especially the membrane area where seeds are has a lot. When you cut a pepper, the spicy juices leak out and get on your hands. With more mild chile, it is ok to do more work with them. The spicier a chile is, the more you should consider other ways of processing them without using your hands too much. Scissors or a food processor is ideal for superhot stuff.

How to soothe jalapeno hands after they start burning?

Time to get messy. Get some cooking oil, and rub it all over your hands for a minute or two. This will pull some amount of heat out of your skin and into the oil. After this, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water. You will probably not feel any relief immediately, but this step is very helpful in shortening the time that your hands burn. Unfortunately, capsaicin that has penetrated the many layers of skin will not come out. You will still feel some burning for a while, but it will not last as long if you do this.

If you have hot spots on your hands somewhere, you can suck the heat off with your mouth, but this method takes a while and might gross out people around you. Many people will recommend soaking your hands in cold milk, and this also will have some effect, but try using oil and washing with soap and water first. The milk will not do as good of a job at pulling the heat out, but can be nice to soothe the pain after you have used oil or strong alcohol to remove most of the capsaicin from the surface of your skin.

Don’t touch your eyes, and especially don’t touch your lover

Unless you want to cry harder than when you watched Titanic, keep your hands away from your face. Likewise, if you don’t want to sleep on the couch for the next month, keep them away from people you care about too. Many times, we underestimate just how much spice is on our hands, because it takes such a long time to penetrate the layers of skin and bind to a receptor that you can feel it.

Jalapeno hands and Hatch chile

People in New Mexico are quite prone to jalapeno hands, as a yearly tradition for many of us is peeling our sack of chile for the year. Because of this, I wrote this blog post to hopefully spare some people from a fiery feeling in their fingers this 2024 Hatch chile season! Remember the key points. If you have gloves, use them. If you don’t have gloves, wash your hands with soap a lot. Follow these key ideas so you don’t get jalapeno hands, even if you are peeling a sack of xxx-hot Lumbre chile. Happy peeling, enjoy your chile!