Why Dairy Is the Best Way to Cool Spicy Foods

The last girls’ night I hosted, I made spicy shrimp tacos with a spicy mango slaw (as you can see, I love spice). Unfortunately, I discovered that a new friend’s tolerance for heat was not as high as the rest of the group’s. Luckily, I had a quick fix – I topped her tacos with a generous heap of cheese and sour cream. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that dairy counteracts spice, and wanted to understand the science.

Dairy, Spice and Everything Nice

Capsaicin is the oily compound in peppers responsible for the heat we call “spicy.” Capsaicin binds to receptors on your tongue (or your eyeballs, if you’ve accidentally rubbed your eyes after slicing a hot pepper like I have!) and creates that burning sensation. Casein, a protein found in dairy, latches onto the capsaicin, which prevents it from binding to your tongue’s receptors and, thus, has a cooling effect.

What Not to Do

The worst thing you can do when you’re breathing fire from an overly spicy dish is to drink water. The water doesn’t mix with oily capsaicin and instead spreads it around, worsening the sting. It might sound odd, but instead of water, reach for a glass a milk to quickly ease the burn. The higher the fat content the better, as fat also binds to capsaicin.

The Remedy – Make It Nice!

Next time you encounter too much spice, try one of these tips and tricks to make it nice!

Want to learn more science behind the goodness of dairy? Check out our blog.

By Dana Omari, RDN, LDN

Dana Omari is a registered dietitian and believer in preventive nutrition. She is a member of the American and Texas Academies of Nutrition and Dietetics. When she’s not working, Dana volunteers for Homemade Hope and Champagne and Yoga. Learn more about Dana here.

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