Eating spicy food is always a dilemma. You love that initial sweet burn, so naturally, you want to eat more of it. A few more bites in, and that tantalizing burn quickly spreads like wildfire throughout your mouth, and if you’ve eaten too much, your mouth starts to feel like it’s actually on fire to the point of no return. We know the journey of enjoying spicy foods can be a painful one—especially if you love them and want to eat more of them—but if you put too much spice or sauce on your meal, how can you neutralize it so you can enjoy it again?
First off, there’s a reason you like spicy food.
The reason why you keep ordering that spicy tuna bowl at dinner or serving jalapeño poppers to your guests on game day actually has to do with your brain.
It’s not entirely absurd for people to like extremely spicy food. Essentially, a specific chemical compound in hot peppers called capsaicin signals the brain to release endorphins, the chemical that alleviates pain, as well as dopamine, which is known as the “feel-good” hormone. It’s no wonder why you can’t get enough of the spicy stuff—your brain is confusing you by releasing neurochemicals that block pain and hormones that make you feel euphoric even though your mouth is in pain and your nose is running.
So, how do you get the pleasure of eating such tastefully spicy foods, without suffering from the heat? We spoke with Chef Seadon Shouse of Halifax in Hoboken, New Jersey, for the answer on how to prevent the flame from roaring if you suddenly realize you might not be able to take the heat once you’ve already committed to a spicy meal.
Here’s how to make food less spicy so you can actually eat it and enjoy it.
“I feel that the best food or drink to pair with spicy foods is something that has dairy, like a creamy sauce, a yogurt sauce, or a creamy cocktail,” says Shouse.
This is why people dunk their flaming hot Buffalo wings into a generous cup of ranch or blue cheese dressing and stir spicy curry into a yogurt-based sauce—those creamy sauces neutralize the spice enough for you to enjoy that kick without overwhelming your mouth. If you want to have a cocktail with your meal, a creamy one such as a White Russian or a minty Grasshopper can help supplement the meal to wash down your spicy food, too.
Neutralizing spicy foods with a creamy counterpart is the secret to remedying too much spice, so be sure to have a container of yogurt on hand just in case you try your hand at homemade spicy dishes and it edges into too-hot territory.
What’s the best way to cool your mouth down after you have already eaten something that’s too spicy?
“I also like to pair spicy foods with acidic foods to help reduce the spiciness,” says Shouse. Did you also do a double take when you read that? An acidic food may not be the first type of food you think of when you need to cut back on the heat. However, acidic liquids such as lemon juice or vinegar and acidic foods such as chopped tomatoes can help counteract the heat.
So, just remember to neutralize the heat by pairing your favorite spicy food with something that has dairy in it or grabbing something acidic once you’ve already committed and feel the heat coming on strong.
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