Beat the Heat

We often talk about ways to increase spice levels in cooking, but it's also beneficial to know how to cool the mouth down when it's needed.

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We’ve all had that terrible experience – we’ve just taken a bite of something spicy and now our mouth is on fire. We reach for a glass of water to get some relief and that’s our first mistake…

WHAT CAUSES IT?

Spicy foods are not only delicious to many, they also offer many health benefits. They have been shown to boost metabolism and increase heart-health. The problem is that not everyone can tolerate the sting that comes from eating this type of food. 

Capsaicin is the chemical that is responsible for the spicy sensation within different types of peppers, such as cayenne and chilis. In high concentrations, capsaicin will cause a burning effect on sensitive areas of skin and in the eyes. For that reason, it is wise to wear plastic gloves when working with chili peppers.

Chili peppers have varying degrees of heat. A sweet bell pepper has 0 SHU, while Tabasco sauce rates 1200 plus. Common chili peppers used for culinary purposes, in order of ascending hotness, are jalapeño, serrano, cayenne and habanero. The heat is concentrated in the seeds of chilis, so scrape those off, unless you love a burning tongue. 

Spicy foods are not only delicious to many, they also offer many health benefits.

THE COOLDOWN

Contrary to what many people think, dairy – not water – helps ease the heat from spicy foods. Water just spreads the heat around, arguably making it worse, and steer clear of beer as well since it’s mostly all water! 

Milk has a special protein called casein that helps break down capsaicin. Sour cream and yogurt also contain casein, which might explain why Raita is a staple condiment in Indian cuisine, served alongside spicy curries to help balance out the spices. You can find our recipe for it here. 

Contrary to what many people think, dairy – not water – helps ease the heat from spicy foods.

For those who don’t consume dairy, coconut milk and citrus juices will also neutralize the sting of hot spices. Coconut milk has natural fats that counter the heat and citrus fruits contain a chemical called citric acid that breaks down the fiery chemicals found in capsaicin. 

Another great spice extinguisher is bread since it will soak up any lingering oils from hot peppers. Once again, we can take hints from Indian cuisine, in that they commonly serve naan bread (a type of pita) as an accompaniment to many dishes. 

If you’re wondering what might make a suitable dessert after a spicy meal, think milk chocolate! The milk and sugar will cool your palate. Otherwise, lemon sorbet is a wise choice.  

BUILDING TOLERANCE

If you’re new to eating spicy foods or generally have a low tolerance for them, you can build better tolerance by eating slowly and trying various spicy dishes from different cultures. Over time, your body will adapt to spicier foods and you’ll be able to enjoy them more.