In the summer of 2020, I was making enchiladas like I often do. I went through my normal methods to prepare them which included cutting serrano peppers. I know you’re supposed to wear gloves when cutting peppers, but I’m Mexican-American. You know that stereotype about Mexican women flipping tortillas with their bare hands? It’s rooted in truth. I stir vegetables cooking on a hot pan with my fingertips. So why would I need gloves to cut peppers? Sure, I’ll wash my hands after cutting peppers, but gloves? That’s for the weak. But on this summer day in 2020, I was weaker than the serrano peppers.
While I was cooking, my hands started to burn. I had cut the serranos a few minutes prior and at first, I thought maybe my hands burned from touching the hot pan so I didn’t think much of it. Eventually though, it became unbearable and I had already washed my hands multiple times. So, I did what any normal twenty-something would do. I called my Dad.
But he didn’t know what to do either. He probably told me I should have worn gloves. Too late. He did suggest that I should probably call my Grandma Dora though. And as any good Tejana Abuela would do, she first kindly scolded me for not being more careful. Then she made it very clear that I was under no circumstances to use butter. That would make everything worse. I didn’t tell her that I had already used milk. They’re both dairy products so maybe the reason I wasn’t supposed to use butter applies to milk too. I didn’t want to risk the lecture.
Her advice was to soak my hands in water and ice. This at the very least felt good, but when I’d take my hands out of the water, they’d still burn. So it didn’t actually take away the burning completely. I tried a lot of different suggestions but various methods only made the burning less painful for a few minutes and didn’t cure my burning hands. It took over 6 hours for my hands to not need an ice bath to function. The burning didn’t stop completely until the next day.
In case you ever burn your hands with serrano peppers, here’s my review on all the various methods that my Dad, Abuela, & the internet suggested from least helpful to most helpful:
5. Vegetable oil: It did nothing and honestly my hands just felt worse after
4. Baking soda & water paste: This probably did help the most in the long run, but there was no instant relief so I struggled to actually keep it on my hands
3. Rubbing alcohol: A bit of a disclaimer. The rubbing alcohol I used had been expired for 4 years. It may have helped, but there was no instant relief
2. Milk: This was the first thing I tried so admittedly, it may have set the pepper oils in my hands and therefore could be the reason my hands burned for so long… but neither here no there, it was cold so it felt good.
1. Ice water: This felt the best. Your hands can’t hurt if they’re numb.
As it turns out, my grandma Dora misunderstood how I had burned my hands. She thought I burned them on the stove while cooking the peppers, not from cutting the peppers themselves. Despite the misunderstanding, water and ice still did work the best. So, Abuela was right. Even when Abuela’s aren’t right… they are right.
I still don’t wear gloves while cutting serranos. I think this experience helped build up my tolerance honestly. I’ll be stronger than the serrano. And if I’m not… I’ll just call my Abuela again.