Spicy heat is enjoyable for many people, but everyone has a point where it’s too much. Beyond a certain heat level, food becomes difficult to eat. Usually, excessive heat is associated with more extreme chili peppers (like habaneros and ghost peppers), but food with too much black pepper or ginger can be too hot as well. Regardless of the source of the fire, there are ways to fix an overly spicy dish. So, how do you tame the heat? Here’s how to make food less spicy.
Note: These are general tips, covering a wide array of solutions. Some will work better than others in certain cooking circumstances. Some may not work at all. Consider what type of meal you’re making and whether the solution fits before trying. For more specific recommendations (for chili, salsa, and other dishes), see the links at the bottom of this post.
Table of Contents
- Dilute it
- Add dairy
- Add oil
- Add starch
- Add acid
- Nut butter
- Add sweetness
- Discover specific recommendations by dish
Dilution will work in any overly hot dish regardless of the heat source, which means that you can use it in dishes that not only have too many chilies, but also with dishes over-spiced with ginger or black pepper. The simplest way to dilute a spicy dish is to add more of the ingredients except for the source of heat. You want more of everything else to lower the concentration of spice. Keep in mind that dilution is only feasible for dishes that are mildly spicy but might be expensive or wasteful with extremely spicy dishes.
The addition of dairy to dishes that are too hot is not only one of the popular solutions, it is also backed by science. A protein in dairy products called casein binds with the compound responsible for the heat in chili peppers (capsaicin). As a result of the attraction between casein and capsaicin, the capsaicin detaches from the receptors on the tongue and can be washed away easily.
You can add dairy to many hot dishes in the form of sour cream, yogurt, or milk. Sour cream is a traditional accompaniment to Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, which many people consider spicy, and yogurt is used in some Indian dishes. When you add dairy to spicy food, be careful about cooking it for too long, since it can curdle.
Additional fat might help tame heat in some spicy dishes, since it can dilute capsaicin. Any cooking oil will lessen the heat, from grapeseed oil to ghee; choose the fat that works best with your dish.
A bland, neutral starch may be able to absorb the spiciness and make the rest of the dish milder. Your options for a good absorbent starch include rice, wheat flour, and quinoa.
Acids are widely recommended as tools for making spicy food milder. Capsaicin is alkaline, which means that its pH is high so the way to neutralize it is to add an acid. Increasing acidity may neutralize heat to a limited extent, but it probably won’t make much of a difference in extremely hot food.
Not every spicy dish will benefit from nut butters, but they will work in many. Consider using nut butters in savory preparations like stews, soups, and chili if they are too hot. Not only do they help to tame the heat, but they will also be relatively unobtrusive to the overall flavor.
Sweetening an excessively spicy dish is a popular solution, but it won’t work with many dishes. The sweetness will dilute the dish and neutralize the heat slightly, but too much will throw a savory flavor profile off. It’s best for dishes that are only a little too hot.
Discover specific recommendations by dish
- How To Tone Down Chili: It’s easy to overdue chili with the additions of fresh pepper and chili powders.
- How To Make Salsa Milder: How do you remove the heat yet keep what makes it salsa?
- How To Make Soup Less Spicy: Soup, like chili, is easily over-spiced. A lot depends on the base.
- How To Temper The Heat In Sauces: A lot depends on the recipe, and you’ll need to take care to not change delicate flavors.