Adding hot peppers to stews and casseroles seems to increase their potency. But what happens when you boil hot peppers? Does this reduce their heat?
Boiling hot peppers in water reduces their heat, and the longer you boil them, the less hot they get. This is because the capsaicin from the peppers is lost to the water. However, boiling hot peppers in a stew, casserole, or similar dish makes them taste spicier.
Read further to learn why boiling hot peppers reduces their heat. I’ll also discuss a few other ways to reduce a hot pepper’s heat.
Why Does Boiling Hot Peppers Reduce Their Heat?
I’ve explained that boiling hot peppers in water reduces their heat. So, what’s the science behind this phenomenon?
Boiling hot peppers reduces their heat because the capsaicin is released into the water and dissipates. Ongoing exposure to boiling water breaks down the capsaicin molecules and enhances the hot pepper’s other flavors.
I’ll explain these points in more detail below:
Boiling Releases the Capsaicin Into the Water
Capsaicin is the substance that gives hot peppers their fiery taste. Mild peppers (such as jalapeños) have low capsaicin levels, while hot peppers (like the Carolina Reaper) contain many capsaicinoids.
Capsaicin is also a volatile oil that becomes unstable when it comes into contact with steam. When it’s boiled, the capsaicin molecules in your hot pepper begin to shift around and eventually move out of the pepper and into the surrounding water.
If you place your face over the steaming pot, your eyes may water due to the high capsaicin content in the steam. The water will also contain a lot of capsaicin and will taste spicy if you drink it.
However, when you boil a hot pepper within another dish (e.g., a chile con carne or a spicy stew), the dish will taste hotter because the capsaicin will be evenly dispersed throughout the surrounding liquid.
The longer you boil the hot pepper, the more capsaicin molecules enter the water, resulting in a far less spicy pepper.
Ongoing Boiling Breaks Down the Capsaicin
Boiling your hot pepper in water for a couple of minutes won’t destroy the capsaicin molecules and will simply heat the pepper instead. However, if you boil the hot pepper for more than five minutes, the steam’s heat will gradually break down many of the capsaicin molecules and destroy them, resulting in a milder pepper.
A study published on ScienceDirect revealed that boiling various hot peppers at 96°C (204.8°F) resulted in a moderate capsaicin loss of between 1.1 and 28.1%. Increasing the heat or the boiling time can destroy more capsaicinoids and make the pepper less fiery.
Boiling Enhances the Pepper’s Natural Flavors
Boiling hot peppers causes them to become less spicy, but the heat from boiling enhances their other flavors, allowing the pepper’s natural smoky and earthy taste to emerge.
This is due to the Maillard Reaction that occurs at temperatures between 280 and 330°F (138 to 165°C). The Maillard Reaction in hot peppers involves the proteins reacting with the natural sugars, which allows its other flavors to be released.
Other Ways To Reduce a Hot Pepper’s Heat
I mentioned that boiling hot peppers can reduce their heat in the previous section. But what if you don’t want to boil them in water? Are there other ways of reducing their heat through cooking?
The answer is yes!
Here are a few of them:
Remove the Pith and Seeds Before Cooking
The spiciest part of a hot pepper is the pith or placenta. This is the white, fleshy section that protrudes into the pepper’s empty inner cavity and contains the seeds. It is the spiciest part because it contains the capsaicin glands, which are responsible for distributing capsaicinoids throughout the pepper.
Cutting off the pith is an easy way to reduce your hot pepper’s heat.
Eat the Peppers With a Dairy Product
Dairy is rich in protein, with the most abundant one being casein. Casein does an excellent job of neutralizing capsaicin’s potency.
When you eat or cook hot peppers with a dairy product, the casein molecules move toward the capsaicinoids, surround them, and gradually destroy them.
Here are some ways to incorporate dairy into your spicy dishes:
- Use sour cream with Mexican food.
- Serve plain yogurt on the side to add extra creaminess.
- Drink a glass of milk or a milkshake with your meal.
Cook the Peppers With an Acidic Ingredient
Capsaicin is a volatile alkaline substance. When it comes into contact with an acid, its potency becomes reduced and eventually neutralized.
If you’re making a spicy stew or incorporating hot peppers into a sauce, consider adding an acidic ingredient to decrease the spice level. Below are a few examples of acidic foods that pair well with hot peppers:
- Red wine vinegar
- Lime juice
- Apple cider vinegar
- Fresh tomatoes
- Lemon juice
- Chopped pineapple
Eat the Hot Pepper With a Carbohydrate
Carbohydrates don’t affect capsaicin’s chemical structure, but they act as an excellent buffer when eating spicy foods. When you take a mouthful of starch and spicy food, the carb can prevent some of the capsaicin from coming into contact with your mouth.
If capsaicin gives you stomach or intestinal issues, the carbohydrate can also help.
Here are some great examples of carbs that pair well with food containing hot peppers:
- Jasmine rice
- Freshly-baked bread
Rinse or Soak the Hot Peppers Before Cooking
If you have a particularly hot pepper (such as a Devil’s Tongue or Jamaican Hot Chocolate Habanero), you might be concerned about how hot it will make your dish.
An effective way of reducing a hot pepper’s spice level before cooking is to rinse it with water or soak it in an acidic substance for a few minutes.
Rinsing it with water removes some surface capsaicin molecules, resulting in a slightly milder pepper.
Soaking your hot pepper in apple cider vinegar is more effective because the acid penetrates the hot pepper’s flesh and slowly neutralizes the capsaicin’s potency.
Add Something Sweet to Your Dish
When you eat hot peppers, the capsaicin binds to the pain receptors in your mouth and throat, telling your brain that you’re in pain. However, the glucose in sugary foods binds to these pain receptors faster, so you won’t notice the heat level as much if you add something sweet to your dish.
Glucose also surrounds and neutralizes capsaicin molecules, and high-sugar foods and drinks, therefore, have a two-pronged approach to reducing the heat level.
Excellent examples of sugary ingredients you could add to your spicy dish include:
- Brown sugar
- Lime juice (It’s both sweet and acidic!)
An extra benefit of adding a sugary substance to a spicy dish is that it can enhance the hot pepper’s smoky, grassy, and slightly bitter taste.
Boiling hot peppers in water reduces their heat because the capsaicin compounds are released into the water. The longer you boil hot peppers, the less potent they become as the heat breaks down the capsaicin molecules, releasing them into the water.
Conversely, if you boil hot peppers within a dish (such as a stew), the dish will become hotter because the capsaicin will spread.
- ScienceDirect: Effect of cooking on the capsaicinoids and phenolics contents of Mexican peppers
- Your Article Library: Volatile Oil : Properties, Classification and Extraction
- Science of Cooking: What is the Maillard Reaction?
- BBC: Carolina Reaper: 5 facts about the world’s hottest chilli
- Farmer’s Almanac: What The Heck Is Devil’s Tongue?
- Quora: Does boiling hot peppers reduce their heat?