Hot Pepper Warning

Why is it that we are warned not to touch hot peppers, yet we use them in our recipes? How do they affect our stomachs? —H.R., Hauppauge, New York

Hot peppers have been eaten in many cultures for at least 400 years. The heat-producing component in hot peppers is called capsaicin. It is concentrated in the white membranes and seeds of the peppers. Capsaicin will not damage your stomach but can add to stomach upset if you already suffer from heartburn. Peppers must be handled carefully because capsaicin can irritate the skin and eyes. The heat can linger on the skin for hours. We recommend wearing gloves when you are working with hot peppers and thoroughly washing your hands, cutting board and knife with hot soapy water after you have finished. Avoid touching your face and eyes. To lessen the heat of hot peppers, trim the membrane and remove the seeds. If you are unsure of the pepper’s heat level, add just a little to a dish the first time you are making it…and more the next time, if you like.