I am wary of spicy foods. I’m not like those competitive Carolina-Reaper-eating maniacs; I have nothing to prove. I like a little bit of heat, but not so much it becomes an impediment to enjoying my dinner, rather than an enhancement. The problem with spice though is that it’s subjective — and once you tuck into that vindaloo, or taco, or mapo tofu, you are well past the point of no return.
Well, a team from Prince of Songkla University in Thailand (a country well-experienced in spicy cuisine) is here to save the cautious among us! They have invented an adorable widget that plugs into a smartphone, which can assess capsaicin levels of samples dropped into it, instantly. Shaped like a classic red chili, the portable device uses a paper sensor to soak up the chili pepper or food sample, and turn around a result that is then displayed on the smartphone screen. The technology behind this invention is tiny and fascinating. From the American Chemical Society:
“The paper-based electrochemical sensor within the device consisted of graphene nanoplatelets doped with nitrogen atoms to improve their electrical conductivity. When the team added a drop of diluted capsaicin to the sensor, the compound underwent oxidation and reduction reactions, producing an electrical current that the device detected. After optimizing the sensor, the researchers used it to determine capsaicin concentrations in six dried chili samples.”
The team focussed on portability, ease of use, and low cost. (While other capsaicin sensors do exist, they are too bulky and expensive to bring to the dinner table with you.) For me, this invention is a game-changer: no more guessing, tip-of-the-tongue-testing, or trying to decipher what the waiter really means by “medium.” Unfortunately, there’s no word yet on a commercial rollout of this device, but I await it with bated — and fiery — breath!