How to Tone Down the Heat on a Dish That's Too Spicy

Peppers and spices
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Whether you dumped too much cayenne pepper into the pot, your recipe misjudged the heat tolerance of your guests, or you bought an exceptionally spicy batch of fresh chiles, there is hope. There are a lot of ways to dial down the heat so your taste buds are able to savor more than the bottle of hot sauce you poured into the dish. Here we cover ways to dial it down and more importantly, how to prevent it from happening in the future. So you know, the heat you "taste" from these peppers isn't an actual flavor? The burn comes from pain receptors in your tongue that is activated by the capsaicin in the peppers.​ Now to help you prevent capsaicin from ruining your meal.

The Hot Peppers Rule

If you are new to cooking with peppers remember this rule: the smaller the pepper, the hotter the burn. Remember to remove and discard the seeds and membranes from jalapenos, habaneros, Scotch Bonnet, and other types of hot peppers unless you like very hot food. Also, never measure cayenne pepper, chili powder, hot sauce, or other spicy condiments right over the bowl or pan. It's just too easy to slip and add too much.

3 Tips to Tone Down the Heat in a Spicy Dish

As you know when you got into this mess, the issue with a dish that 's too spicy is the proportion of the spicy element, is way too high. To balance things out and salvage your meal, you'll have to add bland foods that will neutralize the heat. Here's how: 

Add a Sweetener 

You can reduce the heat of a food by adding some sugar. The Scoville Scale for measuring the heat of chile peppers was developed by adding a sugar solution to peppers until the heat was neutralized. Keep tasting as you add the sugar. But this may make the dish unacceptably sweet. You can also add honey, which has a more rich flavor. If those choices are too sweet, serve your dish with starchy foods, like bread, mashed potatoes or rice. 

Add Fat

Using dairy products is a go-to method to help reduce the burn of peppers. You could add some milk, cream, cream cheese, sour cream, or cheese to the recipe if this is appropriate for the taste of the dish. Chilies contain capsaicin which stings the tongue, but dairy contains casein, which actually binds with the capsaicin and helps take away the pain. If you avoid dairy products, you can add other high-fat foods like coconut milk, avocado, or nuts, such as peanut butter works as well. 

The Easy Way Out: Dilute It

If adding other ingredients seems like too much, the easiest solution to reducing the heat in a dish you've made way too spicy is to simply add more of all the other ingredients. If it's a soup that you are trying to cool down, add more broth and more vegetables and/or meats. If the problem food is a casserole, add more pasta and more sauce (without the peppers this time!) and more of the other ingredients, such as meat or vegetables.

You will have a much larger batch of food, but chilis, soups, stews, and casseroles all freeze well for dinner at a later time. Or of course, there's just more to share with guests, so knock on your neighbors' door and offer up the extra food.