The Washington Post

Should you wear gloves while handling peppers?

In the video above, you’ll notice that The Fold host Brook Silva-Braga and I are wearing food-safe gloves as we guide brave Post victims staffers through a super-hot-pepper tasting. In the course of reporting my story on these atomic plants, I received mixed messages about whether you need to wear gloves while handling peppers.

Most said yes, you should wear them all the time, even before you slice into the capsaicin bombs. But one source said no, wear gloves only once you cut into the peppers and expose their seeds and ribs. So I put the question to Danise Coon, a senior research specialist for New Mexico State University and program coordinator for the Chile Pepper Institute.

She had heard the same conflicting advice, and being a good researcher, she prefers solid, science-based answers to these kinds of questions. She couldn’t provide any. She had no authoritative study that advised wearing gloves or not. But she did offer an anecdote.

Coon said she once had students helping her harvest super-hot peppers, including the Bhut Jolokia (or ghost pepper) and the hottest of all chilies, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which averages 1.2 million Scoville heat units. They were all wearing surgical latex gloves.

“Within 20 minutes, everyone’s hands were burning,” she says. “It was a little miserable harvesting that stuff.”

Coon’s story supports some online anecdotes that make the same claim: Wearing latex gloves while handling super-hot peppers is not enough. The capsaicin will burn right through the latex. This writer suggests wearing rubber dishwashing gloves, which might protect your hands but, I suspect, would make handling peppers akin to trying to deal blackjack with astronaut’s gloves on. A gardening forum suggests nitrile gloves, the kind used for medical examinations and oil changes.

Any other ideas out there?

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.


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