New device detects heat levels in chillies – so you can avoid the burn

  • Some people enjoy the 'burn' of spicy food, while others can't stand it
  • Researchers have developed a device that can detect levels of capsaicin in chillies
  • And soon everyone with a smartphone might be able to detect the level of 'burn' in their food 

Whether you enjoy the "burn" of spicy peppers, or find it unpalatable, a new device will allow you to test just how spicy chillies are before you take the plunge.

The singe we experience when encountering chilli peppers is caused by a compound known as capsaicin. Chillies are high in capsaicin, and although they have many health benefits, capsaicin is considered an irritant to humans and causes a distinct burning sensation. 

Researchers from the Center of Excellence for Trace Analysis and Biosensor (TAB-COE) have tested a device they developed that can detect capsaicin in chillies and posted supporting information in the American Chemical Society journal

About the device

The portable device has an electrochemical sensor (used to detect oxygen and gases). Researchers describe the sensor as being an “electrochemical paper-based analytical device (ePAD)”. This means that it is made of paper and can be disposed of easily after use, while also being inexpensive.

The device consists of three parts: a small potentiostat device (an electronic instrument measuring current flow), a sensor and a point to connect to a smartphone for monitoring and control.

To test the accuracy of the device, researchers used six samples of dried chillies. These samples were mixed with an alcohol-based solution, then drops of the solution were tested for capsaicin. The device accurately measured capsaicin from the samples.

The invention of this device is useful as the addition of capsaicin-containing foods to meals is becoming very popular. This is because capsaicin has many known health benefits, such as aiding in weight loss, pain management and antioxidant properties. 

The researchers who designed the device expressed that it would be easy to replicate the sensor cheaply for distribution. Hopefully, everyone with a smartphone will soon be able to detect levels of capsaicin – and heat – in their food through a very smart but simple-to-use device.

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