Reasons Why Spicy Food Is Less Spicy When It’s Cold

Spicy foods generally taste and feel spicier when hot and develop a certain blandness when allowed to cool down. Also, people resort to cold water or beverages to reduce the heat from spicy foods. However, the relationship between spices and temperature might be more scientific than expected.

Spicy foods are less spicy when cold because the decreased temperature reduces the reaction rate of the phytochemicals in spices against the mouth receptors. Most spices require higher temperatures to release their flavor, enabling them to travel across the nerve endings of your receptors. However, the relationship between spicy foods and cold temperature depends on the type and quantity of spices incorporated in the dish and the spices’ heat sensitivity.    

Ever wondered what makes spicy foods less spicy when they are cold? What happens to the heat or the zing significantly when the food cools down? How about when refrigerated, will the spiciness go away? Let’s find out in this article!

Does Food Spiciness Decrease With Decreasing Temperature?

Reasons Why Spicy Food Is Less Spicy When It’s Cold

Food spiciness decreases with decreasing temperature. However, it depends on the nature of the dominant spices that constitute the food. If the spices are temperature sensitive, they could get denatured by heating or cooling. For instance, oil-based spices like chili will become less spicy when cold because the spiciness gets locked within the cold oil molecules. 

Temperature sensitivity influences food spiciness in the same way that enzymes influence reaction rates. Here is what we mean!

Most spices used in food preparation are herbs and contain unique plant materials called phytochemicals. 

The phytochemicals are the active elements that give spices their respective flavors and depend on temperature to release their essence into food and across your taste buds, sinuses, and receptors. 

You also have to cook with heat to get all flavors well blended. As a result, when spicy foods get cold, they lose their spiciness. 

On second thought, do they actually lose their spiciness or are humans unable to detect food spiciness when they get cold? 

Are Cold Spicy Foods Truly Less Spicy? Or It’s a Game of Perception.

When spicy foods are allowed to cool, they lose their spiciness and become somewhat bland. However, can we genuinely prove that these foods lose their spiciness during the cooling process? Or, do we somehow fail to detect the spicy flavor? 

It all comes down to the science of perception, thermoregulation, and your brain’s pain receptors. When you eat spicy foods, the phytochemicals diffuse over your taste buds and receptors, which your brain interprets as hot and painful. The reason is that heat increases the reaction rate of these phytochemicals, causing them to diffuse more rapidly.

On the contrary, when the spicy foods get cold, the reaction rate reduces, but the inherent spiciness remains within the food. You are only less able to perceive the spiciness because the lower reaction rate makes it difficult. As a result, your nerve endings are less stimulated when the spicy food is cold. It is also the reason cold food seems less palatable. 

What Degree of Coldness Is Sufficient To Reduce Food Spiciness?

Now that you understand how cold foods seem less spicy, how far can we reduce the food’s temperature? 

A Few Hours After Cooking at Room Temperature

The room temperature is approximately 25 degrees celsius, which is not essentially cold. However, dishing out a spicy food a few hours after cooking and keeping it at room temperature will not make it less spicy. The reason is that room temperature is not much lower than the temperature of your mouth. 

Cooling spicy food at room temperature only allows your mouth to adjust quickly to the food’s spiciness and makes it more tolerable for you, mainly if the dominant spice contains capsaicin like chili. 

Several factors affect food’s ability to retain spiciness for a long time, notwithstanding the temperature. 

They include

  • Type of spice (hot or cold)
  • Quantity or ratio of the spice to food
  • Dominant phytochemical in the spice
  • The temperature of the food

Refrigeration

Refrigeration keeps food between two to four degrees Celsius and rapidly cools the food temperature. The colder the food, the less likely you will perceive its spiciness because the coldness immobilizes the flavor due to a slower reaction rate. 

Refrigerated foods appear to have a more bland taste because the molecules of the phytochemicals cannot diffuse rapidly across your receptors. Interestingly, reheating cold spicy foods seems to bring back their spiciness because of the correlation between heat and spice. 

Most spices involved in cooking are oil-friendly; thus, heat makes the spice molecules freely diffuse while cold immobilizes the spice molecules, locking them within the food.

Hot Spices vs Cold Spices: How the Spice Type Determines Cold Food’s Decline in Spiciness

Even though spicy foods become less spicy as they get cold, some spicy foods get more enjoyable when you consume them cold. Such foods are those prepared with cold spices or cooling herbs. 

Cold spices contain cooling phytochemicals that reduce internal temperature and turn down the body’s thermoregulatory system. As a result, you feel more relaxed when you consume foods prepared with cold spices— a fundamental reason cold spices remedy inflammation.

Here is a comparison table showing a few examples of both types of spices (hot and cold) with their phytochemical and temperature response.

SpicesTypeFlavorPhytochemicalsCold effect on perception
ChiliHotPeppery/hotCapsaicinLess spicy
WasabiHotAromatic/pungentIsothiocyanateLess spicy
OnionsHotPungentThiosulphinatesLess spicy
Black pepperHotHotCapsaicinLess spicy
TurmericCoolMild/soothingCurcuminSpicier
Mint leavesColdMinty/coldMentholSpicier
Fennel seedsCoolMinty/cool Dianethole/PhotoanetholeSpicier
Turmeric
Turmeric

Are Spicy Foods Better, Cold or Hot?

Not all spicy foods lose their spiciness when cold since several factors besides temperature influence food spiciness. As a result, the preferred temperature for consuming spicy foods depends on the individual and other spice retention factors like the type of spice, ratio of condiment to food, etc. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Spicy Foods Not As Spicy When Cold?

Spicy foods are not as spicy when cold because reducing temperature doesn’t give the spices enough room to diffuse. As a result, the receptors in your mouth cannot quickly pick the spicy stimuli which your brain interprets as hot. The inherent spiciness of the food doesn’t go away. Your perception is only decreased by the fall in temperature. 

Does Temperature Affect Spiciness?

Temperature

Temperature affects spiciness, and there seems to be a direct correlation between them. However, temperature influence on spices differs from spice to spice. When the temperature is raised, the phytochemicals in most spices are activated so that your receptors become more sensitive to them. Similarly, when the temperature is reduced, some phytochemicals inhibit sensory perception.  

Does Spicy Food Get Spicier When Cold?

Spicy food doesn’t get spicier when cold. The spice concentration remains virtually the same; instead, your perception of the spice decreases because of the coldness. However, it depends on the inherent nature of the condiment and the duration of cold storage.

Final Thoughts

There seems to be a positive correlation between spice and temperature, where the higher the temperature, the spicier the food and the lower the temperature, the less spicy the food. However, different spices react differently to temperature, some spices are inherently hot, and some are cold, but perception and chemistry seem to be the fundamental determinant of food spiciness.   

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Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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