Capsaicin Taffy Recipe for Cancer-Treatment Mouth Sores

powdered red pepper
Stefan Obermeier/imageBROKER/Getty Images
Total Time 40 min
Prep 5 min, Cook 35 min
Yield Variable amount of Taffy

Capsaicin (cap-SAY-sin) is what makes cayenne peppers spicy-hot. Along with being very spicy, capsaicin also helps to relieve pain. It has anti-inflammatory effects, much like aspirin or ibuprofen.

You may wonder why you would want to put something spicy into your mouth if it is sore from cancer treatment. You should never put regular cayenne pepper into your sore mouth. This would be very painful. The following recipe, however, was developed by nurses and uses just enough of the cayenne pepper to get the anti-inflammatory pain relief, without the spicy-hot burning.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered cayenne pepper / red pepper (see Note, below)


  1. Combine all ingredients except vanilla and cayenne pepper in a stove-top pot.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 256 degrees F (use a candy thermometer).
  3. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla and cayenne pepper.
  4. When cool enough to handle, pull taffy until firm.
  5. Lay out in a thin layer and let cool on waxed paper.
  6. When taffy is stiff, cut into strips, then small pieces.
  1. Wrap taffy in waxed paper and store in a cool place.

Note: Start by using only 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in the first batch. You can add more cayenne pepper to the next batch if this gives you better pain relief and does not cause any burning sensation. You can add up to 1 1/2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper per batch of taffy.


Berger A, Henderson M, Nadoolman W, Duffy V, Cooper D, Saberski L, Bartoshuk L. "Oral capsaicin provides temporary relief for oral mucositis pain secondary to chemotherapy/radiation therapy." Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 1995 10:243-48.

Non-Irritating Food for Mouth Sores

  • Try smoothies or shakes, warm soup (cook thoroughly, but do not serve hot), cooked cereals made with extra water or milk, such as thinned oatmeal or cream of wheat, yogurt, pudding, mashed potatoes with gravy, pasta, casseroles, and canned fruit.
  • Try using a straw to drink liquid, which can help "bypass" mouth sores.
  • Take small bites and chew each bite carefully, but completely, when you are eating.
  • Soften food with liquids or semi-liquid items, such as milk, soy or rice milk, juice, broth, sauces, gravy, soup, yogurt, or jelly.
  • Use a blender to mash or blend fruits or vegetables.
  • Sip warm, herbal (caffeine-free) tea, such as chamomile.
  • Add a little olive oil to finished recipes to make foods slippery and easier to swallow.
  • If cold foods are easier on your mouth, try frozen fruit, such as frozen grapes, wedges of cantaloupe, peach slices, or watermelon.
  • Eat water-rich fruit such as watermelon, peaches, and nectarines, but avoid fruit that contains little seeds, such as berries.


Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. The Clinical Guide to Oncology Nutrition, Second Edition, 2006. (Elliott L, Molseed LL, McCallum PD, Grant B, Eds.). American Dietetic Association: Chicago, IL.

Why does some cancer treatment cause mouth sores?

Lynne Eldridge, M.D.,'s Lung Cancer Expert, says, "Since chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells, it can also affect the rapidly dividing cells lining the mouth. Chemotherapy may also affect the production of saliva, and alter the normal bacteria present in the mouth, making infections more likely."

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