People love spicy foods. Whether eating tacos or ramen, people turn up the heat and leave their tongues and hearts burning. For true spice freaks, there’s the ghost pepper, the habanero, or Sriracha sauce, while someone who just wants a slight kick might turn to your standard Tabasco or Frank’s Red Hot. However, it’s not enough. Between pepper eating contests and local hot sauce companies running out of butt metaphors to title their concoctions, people might start turning to unconventional sources to get their fix. 

Pepper spray is among the most popular forms of non-lethal defense on the market. You’ll find it everywhere, from someone’s purse to a police officer’s utility belt. Unsurprisingly, pepper spray is much spicier than your average hot sauce by thousands if not millions of Scoville units, the measurement for a pepper’s spice level. That’s hot for the tongue, sure, but can you cook with it?

Before anyone lights the burners on their stovetop, we thought it might be smart to talk to some professionals.

Can you cook with pepper spray?. Image 1.

Matthew Schimkowitz




Dr. Joshua Lambert

Associate Professor, Department of Food Science — Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis

Commercial pepper spray contains capsicum oleoresin, which is produced by extracting hot peppers with some solvent and then evaporating the solvent. The extract is then suspended in water with some emulsifier to keep it in suspension. The heat of peppers is measured using the Scoville scale, with a higher number of Scoville units (SHU) indicating a hotter pepper (for example, sweet bell peppers have 0 SU, Jalapeños have 1000 – 4000 SHU, and Carolina Reapers are 2.2 million SHU or greater). Police grade pepper sprays have been reported to be at 500,000 to more than 5 million SU.

Without knowing the chemical composition of every pepper spray out there, I would say yes, theoretically, you can cook with pepper spray. It would bring the heat of the peppers (similar to habaneros, ghost peppers, or Carolina Reapers), but probably not many of the other flavors that people like in peppers.

In addition, cooking with pepper spray could be difficult. How much pepper spray should you use? How do you get the spray on the food without incapacitating yourself with the aerosol? The cook would also have to ensure that the spray didn’t contain any toxic ingredients, and that the product that they selected was pepper spray (OC or oleoresin capsicum) and not mace (phenacyl chloride).

While it might be possible to cook with pepper spray, you’d get as much heat and better flavor with less work using hot peppers.


World’s Hottest Peppers:

 The Carolina Reaper

 The Moruga Scorpion 

 Chocolate 7-Pot 

 Trinidad Scorpion 

 Bhut Jolokia

 Red 7-Pot

 Chocolate Habanero

 Red Savina Habanero

 Scotch Bonnet

 Orange Habanero



Michael Blau

Chef de Cuisine,
The Good King Tavern, Philadelphia, PA

I would say no you can’t, but I enjoy the fact that after years of working in kitchens, I know how to make pepper spray and have used it, on accident, on occasion. 

As a younger cook, I would mess around and start sautéing jalapeños, habaneros, and scotch peppers to add to sauces. I learned through [trial and error] the effects that had on my other cooks. Sautéing the peppers would release the capsaicin into the air and everyone would clear out of the kitchen, coughing or tearing up. I also had a chef who used to rub habanero seeds on a bartender's sandals, on a similar note.