Chemists’ YouTube channel explores breathalyzers, hot sauce and more

A video posted last week by the American Chemical Society features a Washington-area performer: Cpl. Michael Rose of the Prince George’s County Police Department demonstrates a hand-held Alco-Sensor in a show called “How Breathalyzers Work.” The video is one of the latest uploads on the chemical society’s “Reactions” YouTube channel. “Once you get rid of that hangover,” the announcer (not Rose) suggests cheerily, “. . . why not subscribe to get more chemistry fun?”

The fun includes videos on how artificial snow is made, the chemistry of love and a particularly enthusiastic demonstration of what makes sriracha hot sauce a “must-have condiment” that’s “good on everything, and we mean literally everything.”

The viewer learns that the heat in sriracha comes from compounds called capsaicinoids. These “trigger the TRPV1 receptor protein in our mouths, which usually responds to scalding temperatures above 109 degrees Fahrenheit,” the announcer explains. “Then the body responds to the capsaicinoids’ burn by releasing a painkilling endorphin rush, kind of like the one a jogger feels after a long run.”

Just how hot is sriracha? As measured in Scoville Heat Units (named for the pharmacist who invented the scale), sriracha comes in at 1,000 to 2,500 SHUs. Texas Pete registers at about 750 SHU; tabasco runs 2,500 to 5,000; a jalapeno pepper about 4,000; and a habanero pepper can hit . . . come on, guess . . . 350,000. Don’t go there.

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