Smartphone Compatible Device Gives Chili Pepper Heat Reading

The Chilica-Pod, developed at Songkla University, lets users know what they're in for before a meal.
Chris Young
The photo credit line may appear like thisAdapted from ACS Applied Nano Materials

We've all either been to a restaurant with a friend whose face went all red because of how spicy their food was, or we've been that friend.

Thankfully, a team of scientists might have the answer to our chili-related woes: seeing as not everyone has the same tolerance for hot chilis, the group has developed a simple, portable smartphone-enabled method for detecting the heat of a specific chili.

Chilica-Pod plugs right into a user's smartphone and allows them to see whether that chili is likely to have them sweating from their face or not.

RELATED: NASA WANTS TO GROW ESPAN˜OLA CHILI PEPPERS ABOARD THE ISS

Detecting those red hot chili peppers

Chilica-Pod was developed, in the shape of a chili, by a team led by Assoc. Prof. Warakorn Limbut, from Thailand's Prince of Songkla University. The prototype device uses single-use paper-based electrochemical sensor strips that include graphene nanoplatelets doped with nitrogen atoms to improve their electrical conductivity.

In order to use the device, users much add a dried chili sample to an ethanol-containing solution and shake it up. Then, they add a drop of that liquid onto one of the paper-based strips.

The device then reads the capsaicin content in the liquid, which is the compound in chili that makes it hot and also gives it several of its known health benefits, such as being anti-oxidative, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory.

For casual as well as pharmaceutical use

In order to take its readings, the Chilica-Pod relies on the fact that capsaicin oxidizes when it mixes with the graphene and nitrogen on the paper strip and produces an electrical current. The higher the current, the higher the capsaicin reading given by the Chilica-Pod device, which is displayed on the user's screen via a dedicated app.

In their paper, the researchers say they have so far tested their device on six types of chili, all of which have shown capsaicin readings consistent with those obtained via more expensive lab-based equipment.

Aside from helping people who aren't accustomed to very spicy dishes avoid a nasty surprise, the Chilica-Pod may also help people chose the highest capsaicin chilis for pharmaceutical purposes due to the several health benefits displayed by the spicy fruit.

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