Too much hot sauce can kill you

Hot, hotter, chilli: is spicy food unhealthy?

Last change:
Written by Wiebke Posmyk • Medical editor

Our content is based on well-founded scientific sources that reflect the currently recognized state of medical knowledge. We work closely with medical experts.

Learn more

Who will break the sharpness record? In competitions, the participants consume super-hot currywurst and try to outdo each other in terms of spiciness. But how much heat can our body actually endure?

Watery eyes are the least: Anyone who tastes currywurst with extremely hot chili sauce while eating a competition must expect sweats, a numb tongue or massive circulatory problems, among other things.

Again and again one hears or reads about hotness competitions that have led to violent physical reactions in some participants - including emergency operations. A few years ago, for example, a test of courage among schoolchildren in the hospital ended: They suffered chemical burns to their stomach after drinking chili sauce straight from the bottle.

Chilli hotness has a name: capsaicin

The currywurst sauce owes its fiery-spicy taste to one type of paprika - the Chilli pepper. It contains so-called capsaicinoids, especially the hot substance capsaicin.

There are very different substances that give spices sharpness, for example gingerol in ginger or piperine in pepper. However, capsaicin is the absolute one Front runner under the sharp substances.

This is how capsaicin works

Anyone who eats a chilli pepper or a product flavored with chilli will feel the effect after just a few seconds. The capsaicin stimulates nerves in the oral mucosa, which are responsible for pain and heat stimuli. We don't take the sharp note when enjoying a currywurst as a taste, but as a Pain stimulus true - similar to a combustion. Our body reacts immediately: it begins to sweat to lower the body temperature, and the vessels widen so that heat can get out of the body through the skin.

Sharpness can be measured

The heat in chillies and chilli products can be measured - in the unitScoville, named after the US pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. The Scoville value indicates how many milliliters of water would be needed to compensate for the sharpness in such a way that it is barely noticeable.

An example:One milliliter of Tabasco sauce with a spiciness of 5,000 Scoville would have to be diluted with 5 liters of water so that the spiciness is barely noticeable.

Degree of spiciness in Scovillecorresponds to ...
up to 10Sweet peppers
100 - 500Hot peppers
1.000 - 10.000Sambal Oelek
2.500 - 8.000Jalapeño chilli
2.500 - 8.500Tabasco sauce
100.000 - 250.000Habanero chilli
2 millioncommercial pepper spray
5 millionPolice pepper spray
16 millionpure capsaicin

Is too spicy dangerous?

Spicy foods can aid digestion. If it is too hot, however, this can not only lead to high blood pressure peaks and damage to the gastric mucosa, but also to circulatory collapse.

The question arises whether too much chili is too fatal can be. Fortunately, our bodies defend themselves violently in the event of an overdose, for example through nausea and vomiting. Nevertheless, there is a risk of a life-threatening circulatory collapse, a high blood pressure crisis or shock. Children in particular are very sensitive to small amounts.

In addition, capsaicin is suspected of promoting cancer of the upper digestive tract in high doses over a long period of time.

The good news: Those who like to eat spicy and don't have a sensitive stomach can continue to do so as long as they don't overdo it with the spiciness!

That the weather eaters are not put off by such complaints could possibly be with Endorphins related. These euphoric messenger substances are released after consuming hot chilli.

Our tips for handling chilli

  • When you cut chili peppers, always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards - or use gloves! This will avoid skin irritation.
  • Don't go straight to the limit: Better to season sparingly first and slowly feel your way to the desired degree of spiciness!
  • If it was too hot: Help against the burning sensation in the mouth starchy products like rice and bread in combination with cooking oil or fat. Also milk can alleviate the discomfort.
  • You should store hot sauces with chilli in such a way that Children do not reach them can.

After all, currywurst & Co. are actually only a pleasure if the focus is on the taste - and not the spiciness ...

Online information from the Federal Association of the German Meat Industry e.V .: (accessed on: October 12, 2017)

How healthy is spicy food? Online information from the Ministry for Rural Areas and Consumer Protection Baden-Württemberg (MLR): (8.3.2017)

Press release of the aid info service nutrition, agriculture, consumer protection e. V .: Ideal for the light summer kitchen: chilli and paprika (5.8.2015)

Stumpf, H .: Capsaicin: Hot fruits. The PTA in the pharmacy No. 2/2014, p. 106 ff. (1.2.2014)

Too spicy is not healthy - foods with very high capsaicin content can be harmful to your health. Opinion No. 053/2011 of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment: (18.10.2011)

Last content check:12.10.2017
Last change: 30.03.2020