How To Tone Down Spicy Food

What do you do when your mouth is saying “enough already!”?

You may be a total spicy food lover, and yet you’ll still need a break from the heat now and then. But how do you cut down on the spice? What can you do when cooking a meal yourself, and how can you lessen the heat of a pre-made meal or restaurant dish? Here are a few practical tips on how to tone down spicy food when your palate is saying no more.

Lessening heat when cooking:

Look for substitute ingredients.

For instance, if a recipe calls for hot paprika, consider substituting in a mild variety instead. The same goes for chili peppers – opt for a comparable hot pepper with less heat.

Forgo the chili pepper or spice altogether. 

Careful – this may change the taste of the dish, but in some cases you won’t even notice it.

Remove the seeds and the membrane from chili peppers prior to using them.

The pepper seeds and the membrane are where a lot of a chili pepper’s heat is held; removing them will effectively cut down on the overall spiciness.

Thin down the broth.

Obviously this only works for a soup, stew, or chili, but adding a little more water or stock can quickly lower the overall heat from a dish you are preparing.

Double up the recipe.

If you don’t want to alter a recipe’s core flavors and it’s on the verge of being too spicy, you can always just double the portions and cut down on the overall heat in the process.

Lessening heat from restaurant dishes and pre-made meals:

This gets a little more tricky, but there are still quite a few ways to lessen the pungency of a meal that’s sitting in front of you.

Mix in a little sugar.

Don’t go nuts here. You don’t want to completely alter the flavor of the meal, but a small teaspoon of sugar can cut down the spice.

Top the dish with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

The acid in citrus will help temper the spiciness of the dish. This is one of the reasons Mexican food is often served with a lime wedge.

Add some sour cream.

Here’s another Mexican dish side that you may not have realized can help with lessening the overall spiciness of a dish. Dairy is excellent at toning down heat. That’s why milk is so great at stopping chili burn too.

Stir in more ingredients from the plate.

If your dish has sides like vegetables, mixing them into the spicy portion of the meal can help. The veggies will help lessen the overall pungency you experience by absorbing some of the spice.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content. It was originally published on June 10, 2014.