Have some chili planned for dinner? You know it’ll be a crowd pleaser – until you taste it. All you can think of is that a stray chili pepper that made it’s way into your recipe was at it’s peak of hot, hot, hot – or the lid popped off the jar of chili pepper […]
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Have you ever gotten a little too overzealous with the chili powder – or with the amount of peppers you’ve added to that fantastic dish you’re cooking?
It happens — but what do you do? You can burn the heck out of everyone’s mouth, toss the whole dish into the garbage, feed the compost pile, or maybe somehow salvage what you’ve made.
There are those of you who routinely look for the spiciest food around and are probably thinking – so what’s the problem? But, for those of you – like me – who would prefer not to have your mouth on fire – there are ways to calm down an over-spiced dish. After some research, here’s a bunch of suggestions (in no particular order). Maybe some will work for your dish, and maybe not, but file them in your memory and give one or two a try when you’re staring at a pot of over-spiced food.
I was recently in a restaurant that specializes in chili – hot, hotter, and hottest. I happened to be facing a table of four large thirtyish guys. One guy cherrily ordered, “hottest.”
Shortly after this big, burly guy dug into his chili – with gusto, I might add, he was sitting glassy eyed, rivulets of sweat dripping off of his bald head, practically unable to speak. The waitress, obviously having seen this reaction before, came running over with a glass of milk with orders to, “Drink up.”
Have you ever had this reaction to very spicy food — maybe from that dish you made when you got a little too zealous with the chili powder? Or perhaps, like this guy, from being a little too macho and ordering “hottest” after assuring everyone that you love really hot and spicy food. Or maybe when you accidentally grabbed the wings known as red hots at a Superbowl party.
What Causes The Burn?
Capsaicin is mostly responsible for the “heat” in chili peppers. To stop the mouth flames you need to neutralize capsaicin’s burning heat that binds to your taste buds. Capsaisin is soluble in both alcohol and fat so full fat dairy and alcohol are solutions.
What To Do To Tame The Flame
What do you do as your mouth is sending a five-alarm signal, your face is on fire, and you are sweating enough to water every plant in the room? Here are some solutions that are easy – even when you’re in a restaurant or someone else’s home.
* The most common flame relievers are full fat dairy, acid, and sugar – although some people also swear by nut and seed butters (peanut, almond, tahini). They may all have some degree of effectiveness.
* Ice and water will feel pretty good, but only temporarily. The burning pain will come roaring back. Because capsaicin is soluble in alcohol and fat, sometimes beer is suggested as a solution. The alcohol helps neutralize the capsaicin molecules. But beer is about 95% water and won’t really neutralize the capsaicin clinging to your tongue.
* High fat dairy products like milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, and ice cream coat your mouth and can break the bonds capsaicin forms with the nerve endings – and, since they’re cold, they feel good, too. Aha! An explanation for why spicy Mexican food is often served with sour cream.
* Sugars bind to pain receptors more readily than capsaicin so sweet things may work, too. Sugar, fruit, honey, molasses, even carrots have all been used. Highly sweetened non-carbonated drinks may work. Try some sweet tea. Hoisin may work for Asian dishes, Lassi (sweet and dairy combination) if you are in an Indian restaurant.
* Acid can cut through the heat so use vinegar, lemon or lime juice, anything acidic that doesn’t mess with the taste. Beer with lime?
Penny Manegan Klatell, PhD, RN
Penny is a doctoral level nurse; a health, life, and wellness coach; and a Mom. She’s also a nutritional counselor, food lover, former college professor, author, blogger, speaker, and a very frequent restaurant visitor. She’s from a Greek restaurant family where she learned to cook and discovered the need to speak loudly to be heard above the din. She writes about delicious, healthy food and how to eat well anytime, anywhere, and at any age.