Can two different hot peppers burn in different ways?

Two chilies I regularly use in my cooking:

Bird’s eye
50,000-100,000 Scoville units

Scotch bonnet
100,000–350,000 Scoville units

The Scotch is basically hotter, potentially a lot hotter than the bird’s eye. Here’s the thing though: I find the bird’s eye to burn a lot differently, whether eaten raw OR after used in cooking. In either case, I’m talking about mincing or pureeing the chilies and cooking them thoroughly as part of a dish. In such a case, one would think that the burn would be entirely up to the Scoville units–it’s all the same capsaicin, right?–but in my experience this is not the case.

The bird’s eye burn is harsher, stronger, bitchier. I call it a “front burn”: it tends to burn the tip of the tongue and get under the tongue, too. It’s a pretty painful burn, but I like it. I also love the flavor of the bird’s eye, and I use it in Thai and Indian dishes.

The Scotch bonnet burn is totally different. I call it a “back burn” as it seems to radiate from back in the throat. It does not burn the tip of the tongue much. (I’m talking about using it in a cooked dish. All bets are off if you eat one raw. I’ve tried pieces, and the “back burn” still seems to apply.)

So, the question is this: If you agree that such a thing is possible, what could account for the different burn “styles”?

My best guess is that the capsaicin is “packaged” differently in the two types of chili and somehow relates to slightly different mucus membranes differently. What do you think?

I’ll get the ball rolling.

Slightly related, the “Tongue Map” is a misconception; a taste bud is a taste bud and they are evenly distributed on the tongue. Hopefully we can shut down that avenue of discussion out before it derails us. I will assume you are chewing your peppers the same.

My next thought was perhaps your peppers have additional varying phytochemicals that give the unique sensation. For example, radishes are known for Allyl Isothiocyanate which gives that sinus burn. I don’t know enough about your particular peppers, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear there are unique combinations of these chemicals that validate your experience. Hopefully someone more familiar with the chemistry of peppers will be along to help us out.

Cool question!

Yes, good point. Not sure why the peppers burn different parts of the mouth and throat in different degrees, but it’s not a taste bud thing.

I have to say, I have noticed this, too. Anything from the Capsicum chinense family (habanero, Scotch bonnets, fatalii, etc.) all seem to have that deep, throaty burn to them. Capsicum frutescens (Thai, tabasco, etc) and capsicum annum (cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, etc.) seem to have a more forward burn to them. It’s interesting to see in that Wikipedia link that there are those that think Thai chiles might more properly belong to capsicum chinense. They certainly don’t look or taste like anything from that family.

I haven’t had a chance to read through this all, but this should be a good start to getting to the bottom of this.

Cool article, thanks. Sounds like it’s not my imagination.

And then horseradish is completely in the sinuses.

Yeah, that’s a completely different kind of burn, caused by a different chemical. I don’t consider horseradish “hot” in the way chiles are, and if you swallow horseradish right, you can avoid most of that burn.

Heh, you can avoid it going in, but…

Horseradish burns on the way out? I’ve never had that experience. While I’m fairly immune to chili pepper burn on the way out, there was a time when it did irritate me, especially with pickled peppers. Never had anything like that with horseradish. I’m not sure how that would even work, as horseradish doesn’t irritate the skin like capsaicin does. Or is it just me?

Then why eat horseradish?

Because it tastes good? :confused:

I’ve never had an issue with horseradish hurting the anus.

Yeah, but taste is actually aroma. So any action to bypass the sinus burn of horseradish vapors would by definition bypass most of the flavor.

Seems self-defeating to me. The “pain” is an essential part of the flavor.

I don’t know. There a way I swallow it where I can taste it, get a little mustardy bite from it, but without the sharp pain that goes all the way through your sinuses and down into your lungs. That’s only with the regular, pickled horseradish. The creamy stuff has no bite to me at all, no matter how I eat it.

Horseradish is a much quicker zap of heat that goes away quickly. Some hot peppers can burn for 20 min or so.

Just out of curiosity, I looked it up. Horseradish releases allyl isothiocyanate, or mustard oil, when it is grated. This is present in mustard, horseradish, and wasabi, and gives these their “heat.” It is a sinus and eye irritant. Capsaicin, on the other hand, irritates the mucous membranes.

There are many different kinds of “hot.” Pepper contains piperine, which is different than capsaicin, which is different than allyl isothiocyanate, which is different than zingerone (ginger.) All of these can be described as “spicy,” but tolerance for one type of spicy doesn’t translate to others. For example, my mother can’t eat a hot pepper much spicier than a poblano. But she can eat horseradish or hot mustard by the bucketful (being a good Polish woman.) Meanwhile, my father used to surprise his Mexican coworkers, who liked spicy foods, with horseradish, which they couldn’t handle (being not used to it.)

According to On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, there are several types of capsaicin. He says this may explain why different types of chiles have different heat profiles.

According to Wikipedia, there is only one chemical that can truly be called “capsaicin” - the rest are “casaicinoids.”

Really? How many of those peppers did you eat? A peck?

I don’t think it takes that many!