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Here's chili in your eye

I suppose this is a General Chowhounding topic ...

So I'm buying an ear of corn from a Mexican street vendor ... she slathers it with butter, rolls it in cheese and sprinkles with chili powder.

"A little or a lot of chili?" , she asks in Spanish. "Mucho", I say. As the corn is handed over, a breeze blows up and mucho chili flies off the corn and lands in my eye ... aieeeee ... the agony.

So I'm wincing and moaning "chili, chili" and the corn lady pulls out some salt and hands it to me.

Does THIS seem like a time to add salt to my corn?

"No, no, chili ... ojo" I say.

This little grandmotherly woman nods smiles, pantomimes licking the back of her hand, shaking salt on it and rubbing her eye.

Too stunned and in pain to even think of the words in Spanish I blurt out "Rub salt in my eye?"

She smiles and nods.

Why not? I'm in pain already. Lick hand, sprinkle salt, rub eye ... it WORKED !!!

Now it didn't take all the pain away, but it removed the searing awful pain. Tear glands in my eye did the rest?

I guess this is an occupational hazard for this woman so she had first aid in a salt shaker.

So has anyone heard of this? Why would it work?

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  1. I had no idea of that rememdy... interesting...

    And next time do it with Mayo... the chile sticks better and it tastes much better than the 'parkay' stuff they usually use! :)


    1. In my college years, I worked as a waitress in a rather divey sportsbar. One night, a couple of guys seemed to be staging a chile eating contest, with the chilis lined up and the two of them taking turns biting into them.
      One guy was obviously losing. The sweat was running off his brow and his requests for another round were becoming increasingly faint.
      I remembered reading that either salt or sugar tames the heat of spiciness and brought him a shaker. He licked the back of his hand, shook the salt out and licked...and seemingly received some comfort.
      It makes sense to me that if it works for your tongue, it'd work for your eye - but I don't want to try it!I'm glad it helped you,though!

      1. I've never done that, but my friend's Viet mother told me (after I tore chilies into my pho and then rubbed my eye) to rub ice water on the back of the opposite knee -- and do you know, it worked?

        1. I've applied milk to my eye since it seems to work better than water when you drink it for spice relief. The milk did seem to work better than water. I don't think skim would work need the fat (as always!).

          1. Years ago when I was an assistant manager at a local restaurant one of my employees was cutting habanero peppers. Idiot boy wasn't wearing gloves.

            "You know, you might want to put on a pair of rubber gloves. That oil can blind you if you get it in your eye," says I.

            "No problem. I just won't touch my face."

            About 20 minutes later I notice that he left the line.

            "Where's A----?"

            "I dunno. Haven't seen him for awhile. Maybe he's in the bathroom."

            10 minutes later...still no A---.

            "Would you go check in the bathroom for me? The lunch rush is about to start"

            Sure enough my fry guy comes out of the bathroom laughing.

            "What's so funny"

            "You were right about the gloves."

            "Oh, no!"

            "Well, he didn't touch his face. But he's busy washing another part of his anatomy. He may be a while"

            Poor guy. All these years later I still cringe thinking about it.

            1. We had a student in our culinary school class who was really unhygienic and stuck her fingers in a lot of facial orifices. She was chopping jalapenos and then apparently stuck her finger in her nose because pretty soon she was crying to the instructor that her nose was burning and she had to go home. He didn't buy it and kept her in class.

              She did eventually get asked to withdraw, but mostly for her very poor grades, although all the others knew that part of the reason was her terrible lack of hygiene.

              I like my corn on the cob slathered in sour cream mixed with cumin and chili powder. I think the salt works to neutralize, although you won't catch me sticking salt in my eye.

              1. I have not heard of this, but it's something to think about. Not sure if I'll try it, but then if you've already got the chili in there, how much worse can the salt be?


                1. I'm an optometrist, so have a professional interest as well as food-based. And although I've seen people with chili in their eyes, I've never heard the salt cure before. Maybe it stimulates tearing and washes the stuff out?? Tell you what, I will post the question on a professional list-serve and see if anyone can answer why.....

                  (Love the story about the guy cutting the chilis....)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: janetofreno

                    Great!!! I'd be interested in learning why this worked.

                    To Texas Toast ...

                    >>> if you've already got the chili in there, how much worse can the salt be? <<<

                    Exactly. There would have been no other condition that would have made me do this ... also there was the mommy and bravado factor ... this lady looked like someone's grandmother ... you do what grandma says, right? ... and what am I anyway ... a wutz?

                    Ok, I was in pain and not thinking clearly.

                  2. Why would salt in your eye be bad? Aren't your tears salty? Perhaps the drying powers of the salt stimulate your eye to produce more tears and wash out the chili.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Covert Ops

                      Wouldn't it hurt it I used rock salt?

                      1. re: Humbucker

                        Well of course you'd have to stop to grind it first.


                        1. re: TexasToast

                          I think Sur-La-Table has grind-your-own eye wash stations for $799.99 each.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            that made me laugh so hard I woke the baby.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                You have an option, either fleur de sel de Camargue, or Hawaiian alaea red salt. The salt isn't included, you have to buy it separately.

                        2. lol....

                          Well, the guys on the optometric chat group were no help at all. A few had the audacity to suggest that perhaps the pain of the salt in your eye distracted you from the chili pain. And one guy gave a complicated explanation of the chemistry of the whole thing which didn't make a whole lot of sense. Most agreed with me that its not just a case of the salt causing reflex tearing, because the chili already does that just fine. And although I didn't understand the complicated chemistry explanation, I have a feeling its somewhere there. Maybe salt neutralizes acids in the chili? I know that when I lived in Mexico, I learned that water is one of the least effective ways to neutralize a too-hot chili (that you've eaten). All water does is spread the capsicum around (and capsicum isn't soluble in water). We used to eat bread or tortilla to absorb the spice. So maybe the salt in them did something??? (A great drinking game, btw: bet your buddies that you can eat whole jalapenos without drinking ANY water or liquid. and you can: just mix bites of bread with the bites of chili.....).

                          Anyway, I've been no help, sorry. Except that I noted today when I had dental work and the dentist knew I would have sore gums she suggested rinsing with warm salt water...and we're always told to do that for sore throats, too. So maybe salt has healing effects on mucus membranes???

                          I will give you one piece of unsolicited professional advice: Don't EVER make New Mexico-style red chili salsa without using gloves, and if you forget the gloves, whatever you do don't try and take out your contact lenses when they start to burn......I had one patient who learned that one the hard way. I agreed to see him right away when he was hurting, but only if he gave me the salsa recipe....:-)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: janetofreno

                            "A few had the audacity to suggest that perhaps the pain of the salt in your eye distracted you from the chili pain."

                            That is simple ignorance. I discovered years ago that while getting fresh water up my nose or in my eyes had a painful, drying effect, seawater was much less uncomfortable. Why do you think a saline solution is used to hydrate living tissues instead of plain water? Salt promotes and hastens the intake of moisture - that's why brining works.

                            Double the rec on gloves, BTW...and don't depend on them to block everything. I had fiery fingers for a day or so after de-seeding a batch of habaƱeros WITH gloves on.

                            1. re: janetofreno

                              My fear when I first read the post is that salt could cause a corneal tear. Maybe that was what the other Docs were referring to.

                            2. A few months ago I got something in my eye and couldn't get it out, I didn't want to rub it so I did a google search and learned that if you place your lower lid over your upper debri will be loosened by the tearing (as in crying). I did it and worked. I am not sure if it would work with chili pepper.

                              1 Reply
                              1. Salt is highly unlikely to cause a corneal tear, btw. About the only way that would happen would be if you jammed the cornea with your fingernail when you were trying to put the salt in. and yes, in answer to someone else, I fully understand that saline is used to wash the eye, duh...but the reason some of my colleagues suggested the salt might be painful is that if you inserted it as the OP suggested, you would probably be putting in salt at a much higher concentration than normal, and that IS likely to burn. But if it neutralizes the chili acids and if it works for you, if you are careful it isn't going to hurt your eye. OTOH, if you still have chili on that finger and you put the salt in (or strange bacteria for that matter) then you might have a problem.....

                                1. I think that "ice water on the back of the opposite knee" prescription (above) is pretty interesting.