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!
- Pair Greek Yogurt Blue Cheese Dressing with Buffalo wings or spicy chicken tenders.
- Pair Creamy Greek Yogurt Guacamole with spicy Mexican foods. An added bonus – yogurt and lime juice prevent the avocado from browning!
- Add cottage cheese and milk to spicy tomato sauce for a milder, creamy rose sauce.
- Add plain yogurt to Indian and Asian curry dishes to soften the kick without detracting from the flavor.
Want to learn more science behind the goodness of dairy? Check out our blog.