Capsaicin is the chemical that gives your mouth the burning feeling after you eat spicy food. Too much capsaicin intake can cause discomfort along your digestive tract, including your mouth and stomach. What other foods can you eat to neutralize the heat if you have eaten something too spicy for your body to handle?
Here are 11 of the best foods you can eat after eating spicy food:
- Peanut butter
- Acidic drinks
- Ice cream
- Acidic fruits
- Chewing gum
Let’s explore how these foods and beverages can help you cool down after eating something extra spicy so you can have them next time the burn catches you off guard.
Milk is top on the list of the best things you can eat after consuming spice. This is because casein, a chemical compound found in milk, is really good at counteracting the capsaicin compounds found in chili peppers.
Casein is found in dairy products. While you can find casein in other milk-like substances like baby formula, cow’s milk has the highest casein count at around 80%. So if you’re wondering what kind of dairy is best for spicy food, opt for cow’s milk before anything else.
Milk is effective because it targets the spice in your mouth. When you drink milk, casein acts as a detergent and washes away capsaicin molecules as it goes down your digestive tract. What’s the science behind this?
Firstly, casein will bind to capsaicin because they are both hydrophobic — they repel water but can get close to each other. Secondly, casein is a fat-loving molecule that can break down the fatty elements in capsaicin. Hence, it can get close to and literally “dissolve” the heat in your mouth.
Not every type of milk will be effective at cooling you down. Plant-based beverages like oat milk or almond milk don’t contain casein and will not help much against the burn. If you’re lactose intolerant and want to steer clear of dairy altogether, you can consider other spice-busting options.
2. Peanut Butter
A peanut butter sandwich is comfort food for most of us; filling, delicious, and surprisingly good at soothing your heated mouth.
Peanut butter sports a high percentage of oil and fat. The fatty molecules in the spread bind to capsaicin and break it down, similar to casein in milk.
It’s not just peanut butter — any nut butter will work, too. Although peanuts have high fat content, other nuts like almonds, cashew, and macadamia are fatty enough to tame the spice. The fats in nuts are health-promoting, so you don’t have to worry about being unhealthy.
Whip up some peanut butter sandwiches the next time you eat something too spicy. The combination of oil, fat, and starch from the bread will help soak up the spice.
Some online recipes advocate using a dollop of nut butter with meals if you want to reduce the spice in your food. This can add both texture and flavor to the dish.
3. Acidic Drinks
Acidic drinks like lemonade, orange juice, and fizzy drinks are not just refreshing, but they also work to put out the fire in your mouth.
Funnily enough, even though capsaicin irritates your taste buds by setting it on fire, it isn’t an acidic compound. Capsaicin molecules are alkaline, so drinking a liquid on the opposite end of the pH scale will help cancel it out.
Another plus with drinking acidic drinks is that these kinds of beverages are often manufactured with a lot of sugar. A big gulp of a sugary drink can overwhelm the spiciness in your mouth and dissipate the heat quickly.
However, sweet drinks have some drawbacks as magic potions. Because they have high water content, fruit juices and sodas can spread the spice around your mouth instead of washing it down. Additionally, if your drink is carbonated, the bubbles can irritate your taste buds further, so proceed with caution.
Ever find yourself reaching for more flatbread when you eat curry? Doughy, starchy foods like bread can help soak up the heat of spicy food.
Starch is the star here. As you chew, starchy foods break down in your mouth, forming a barrier between capsaicin and the pain receptors in your mouth. Bread can also pull oil from around your mouth, so it works well with getting rid of oil from fattier dishes.
The starch soaks up capsaicin, working like a sponge to remove the spice. In this case, bread and other carbs work a bit differently from other foods because they don’t break down capsaicin molecules. The spice is absorbed into the starch and taken away instead.
Food scientist Harold McGee claims that crustier bread is more effective than soft buns. This is because the rougher texture distracts your pain receptors from the irritation you feel from the spice. So next time you find your curry too spicy, go for textured, toasted bread for better relief.
Spreading some butter on the bread can take away the spiciness more effectively since butter contains fat that can dissolve capsaicin. If bread isn’t available, you can always choose rice, potatoes, or tortilla chips.
Beer and hot wings are a match made in heaven — the perfect snack combination for watching sports. It’s not just the taste of these two foods that make them addictive, but also how well they complement each other.
Beer helps take away some of the heat from hot wings because of how alcohol interacts with capsaicin. Ethanol is a solvent, so it dissolves capsaicin as it goes along. Therefore, as you drink an alcoholic beverage, capsaicin dissipates and gets pulled away from your taste buds.
Still, beer may not always be the best choice. Since it has a large water content, you might need a lot of it before there’s enough alcohol available to dissolve capsaicin. Also, the carbonation in beer can aggravate the pain from the burn, making it more unpleasant.
If you’ve eaten something spicy and beer isn’t cutting it for you, it would be better to go for something with a higher alcohol percentage like whiskey or vodka. However, there’s a limit to how much alcohol the human body can digest, so drink responsibly.
6. Ice Cream
Ice cream is an excellent choice for combating the heat. It has everything to counter capsaicin: sugar, fat, dairy, and it is ice cold.
Also, ice cream helps your body cool down after eating spicy dishes. Although capsaicin doesn’t cause your mouth to actually burn, your body is tricked into believing that your nerve endings are on fire. Hence, the body reacts the same way it would when you feel hot. And who doesn’t love ice cream on a hot, sunny day?
Not only does the sugar, fat, and casein help with dissipating capsaicin, the temperature of the sweet, icy treat cools your mouth down almost immediately. Moreover, the alternation between hot and cold will help you have an easier time getting through the burn.
If ice cream isn’t available, frozen yogurt or fruit sorbets work just as well. However, the different food compositions can have varying levels of effectiveness. The ice works well to cool you down, but not every frozen treat contains casein or fat.
7. Acidic Fruits
A slice of orange after a meal can cleanse your palate and also help counter the spice in your mouth. Fruits like oranges and lemons are acidic and can cut through the heat and neutralize the spice.
The acid acts as a balancing agent. Capsaicin is a naturally alkaline molecule, so introducing a food on the opposite end of the pH scale can balance out the spicy molecule and mute the pain. Acid doesn’t dissolve capsaicin like ethanol and casein do, but it binds to capsaicin and neutralizes it.
It’s not just citrus that is effective — tomatoes can do the trick too. A cup of tomato juice can help an overheated mouth. Otherwise, suck on a slice of lemon to get a bigger kick.
You can also lower the spice level of a dish by cooking it together with acidic ingredients. Try using some vinegar or lime juice in your salsa dish to save your taste buds.
Ginger causes your skin to burn, especially old ginger. So why is it on the list?
Ginger will not help much against the heat, but it’s a good food to eat if you have post-spicy food indigestion.
Spicy food often causes indigestion and heartburn because it irritates your stomach, causing acid to reflux upwards towards your esophagus. If you suffer from these conditions, substances like milk and sugar won’t help much with the spice and can aggravate your symptoms.
When this happens, ginger is your best bet. Eating some ginger calms the lining of your esophagus and stomach, reducing the irritation caused by capsaicin. Foods made with extremely spicy peppers can cause abdominal cramps, and ginger can also help with this.
Researchers in China have discovered that ginger can help reduce cancer risk in mice fed on capsaicin. While more studies need to be conducted to reach the same conclusion for humans, it doesn’t hurt to have some ginger for its health benefits after consuming some hot sauce.
Next time you have post-spicy food woes, try eating a few slices of ginger or brew a cup of ginger tea with lemon. Nevertheless, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health advises that taking too much ginger can irritate your stomach further, so be careful not to eat too much of it
9. Chewing Gum
Had a bit too much sriracha at dinner? Buy a pack of gum!
Like ginger, chewing gum might not be the most effective at getting rid of spice, but it can reduce the intensity of heartburn resulting from too much spice.
According to Dr. Jacob Skeans, gum itself does not help with easing your stomach. Rather, it’s what the act of chewing gum does to your body.
Chewing a piece of gum stimulates your mouth to produce saliva, and saliva contains bicarbonate which can neutralize an acidic stomach. And because we swallow excess saliva involuntarily, the added saliva clears acid reflux from the bottom of our esophagus quicker than usual.
Gum containing high sugar is acidic. So, while it might help cool down your mouth, it won’t help with acid reflux and indigestion. Go for sugar-free gum instead.
Sugar can provide relief against spicy food. Indeed, some spicy dishes taste sweet because sugar is added to balance out the meal’s spice level.
What’s the science behind this? Sugar works like casein, but it’s not a fatty molecule — sucrose absorbs capsaicin and binds to your taste buds more readily.
Interestingly, the scale used to value spiciness was designed using sugar water as a measuring tool. The Scoville scale, or Scoville Organoleptic Test, measures chili heat by testing how many teaspoons of sugar water is needed to dilute a particular pepper mash until the heat cancels out.
Therefore, sugar is tried and tested, but you might need a certain amount of it before it mutes the pain from the spiciness. Also, it might not be a good idea to have it with hot peppers since too much sugar is bad for your teeth and blood sugar levels. Go for alternatives like milk instead.
If granulated sugar isn’t your cup of tea, go for sugar cubes or honey. Leaving sugar to melt in your mouth for some time gives the sweetness a chance to absorb more spiciness over time.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Not only is chocolate a great after-dinner treat, but it also works well against fighting off the spice if you have had a chili-hot meal.
Chocolate is made with capsaicin-busting ingredients: cacao, sugar, milk, and oil. Milk chocolate beats spice well because it contains casein. While not actually chocolate because it doesn’t have cocoa, white chocolate is a great choice because it is purely made of butter, sugar, and milk.
Dark chocolate works just as well at reducing spiciness. The higher cacao content equals more fat, so it will easily scrub the capsaicin right off your tongue.
Beware of eating too much chocolate, though. Too much sugar can upset your stomach, which is a bad combination with spicy food.
- American Chemical Society: Hot Peppers: Muy Caliente
- American Chemical Society: Ginger and Chili Peppers Could Work Together to Lower Cancer Risk
- Craft Beer: Science Says You’re Wrong About Pairing IPAs and Spicy Foods
- Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology: Lipid Components of 10 Different Nut Types
- First We Feast: How to Prep for and Recover From Eating Spicy Foods
- Food Network: We Tried All the Conventional Wisdom Ways to Cool a Spice-Burning Mouth and This Is the Best
- Cleveland Clinic: Can Milk Relieve the Pain From Spicy Food?
- Heatsupply: Mouth on Fire After Eating Hot Food? These 5 Things Will Help You Cool Down
- Houston Methodist: How to Cool Your Mouth Down After Eating Spicy Food
- Livestrong: 6 Ways to Neutralize Spicy Food in the Stomach and Settle Indigestion
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Ginger
- National Library of Medicine: Putting Out the Fire – Efficacy of Common Beverages in Reducing Oral Burn From Capsaicin
- Pepper Scale: What Exactly Are Scoville Heat Units?
- Spoon University: The Dos and Don’ts of Eating Spicy Foods
- UChicago Medicine: A Hot Topic: Are Spicy Foods Healthy or Dangerous?
- WebMD: Casein Protein – Uses, Side Effects, and More