| Joern Persk |
Fulda, Germany (dpa) – This is probably Germany’s hottest research project, demanding a level of endurance that few would dare.
Test subjects at the University of Fulda were required to ingest repeated doses of capsaicin – the active component of chilli peppers – dissolved in water and assess the effectiveness of various remedies for the resultant hot rush.
Finally, three and a half years of howling and throbbing later, they believe they have determined the optimal means of quelling the
pain, reassuringly simple and accessible: Mascarpone cheese on sliced bread (untoasted) is your best bet to quench the infamous chilli wildfire.
“My subjects and I had to do a fair bit of suffering before we discovered that,” says project leader Desiree Schneider, whose intrepid team of volunteers put their taste buds through the hell of systematic tests.
The 29-year-old nutritionist led from the front, using herself as a guinea-pig as well.
Her doctoral work is indeed as good as finished now, but it came at a cost – Schneider has lost her former love of spicy food.
“It was driven out of me,” she says. “I was working with pure capsaicin, and it also came to violent coughing and skin irritation.”
Of the chilli peppers themselves, she warns that when biting into a pod, Jalapeno and Habanero are the most fiery specimens of all, releasing concentrated capsaicin that rampages through the pain receptors in your mouth.
But even though people know the downside, they still insist on dicing with the culinary devil.
A German folk musician and TV presenter, Stefan Mross, is one person who is unlikely to sing the chilli’s praises any more.
He took up the gauntlet of tasting a particularly incendiary tomato sauce during a live broadcast in August. Mross swooned and had to be taken to hospital before the show was over.
None of the Fulda team actually wound up in casualty, but Schneider admits the pain from strong chilli can “linger” with you for hours.
But someone still had to meet the research challenge head on.
There had been very little systematic research into the chilli phenomenon before, adds Ingrid Seuss-Baum, professor of Food Technology at the same university.
And since sensory methods such as tasting are an important part of quality control in the food industry, plenty of other people have been watching Schneider’s project.
“Mascarpone cheese on toast – we’ll try it,” commented Christoph Sippel, deputy chairman of the Sensory Committee of the German Agriculture Society (DLG), which oversees quality control nationwide.
Previously the food chemistry watchdog had resorted only to dairy products like cottage cheese or yogurt to temper the chilli kick during food testing, Sippel said.
Food giant Nestlé has also been keeping an eye on the project.
“I can well imagine that mascarpone softens the sharpness because of its fat content,” says sensory expert Helge Fritsch of the company’s Product Technology Centre in Singen. “This is certainly an effective solution for products with a high chilli content.”
Bread – the bland, factory type, not craft bread – has also been traditionally served to take the edge off hot spices. Schneider just went that one crucial step further and combined known and proven remedies.
Capsaicin is fat-soluble, hence the mascarpone. And “toast mops up spicy molecules from receptors on the tongue as if it were a scraper,” she explains.
Generally, fat, starch and sugar all counter the burning sensation of chilli, as does sugar-sweetened condensed milk and lemonade.
The big no-no, however, is the thing that people often reach for first in their oral agony – water. This will only spread the pain further, warn the experts.