Dinner Too Spicy? 5 Cooling Tips to Turn Down the Heat

Kitchen dilemmas sometimes happen, even to the best cooks.

Preparing a dish that turns out too spicy is an easy mistake to make, for several reasons.

A dish with too much spice can take on blazing intensity, making it unpalatable for all but the most hard-core of heat seekers. The good news? Even if your dish has become too hot to handle, it can be brought back from the brink of disaster! Check out the five best methods to save your dinner (and your taste buds) here: https://foodal.com/knowledge/herbs-spices/turn-down-the-heat/

For example: accidentally adding a tablespoon instead of just a teaspoon of any hot spice can turn the heat up a little higher than you want.

And substituting fresh chili peppers for dried in a recipe can also stoke the flames a bit higher than intended.

For dishes that are simmered slowly, adding the full measure of spices at the beginning of the cooking process can concentrate and intensify flavors – including heat – above and beyond what’s bearable.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t necessarily mean your dinner needs to be scrapped completely.

While we can’t undo what’s been added, there are a few ways to mellow out the flavor so your meal can be salvaged.

Here’s our take on some of the best ways to tame the heat:

1. Tone It Down with Acids

Hot peppers like chili and cayenne contain a compound called capsaicin, whether they’re fresh or dried.

This ingredient is responsible for most of the heat that you experience, especially that burning sensation when it contacts mucous membranes (like those inside your mouth).

Since capsaicin is an alkaline oil, its intensity may be offset with cooking acids.

Food just a tad too spicy? Or maybe you poured on a little too much hot pepper this time around? Try our best heat-taming hacks to cool down hot flavors: https://foodal.com/knowledge/how-to/turn-down-the-heat/

Acidic ingredients such as lemon or lime juice, vinegar, wine, tomatoes, and even pineapple will all help to neutralize the pH levels of a spicy oil, and reduce some of that flaming-hot flavor.

Add the juice of half a lemon or lime, or a tablespoon or two of wine, vinegar, or tomato sauce, to your over-spiced dish.

Or chop up some fresh tomato or pineapple and add no more than 1/4 cup at a time.

Stir it in thoroughly, allowing the flavors to blend for 15-30 minutes. Then taste and adjust further if necessary.

2. Cool It with Oil or Dairy

The intense heat of capsaicin can also be counteracted with a bit of vegetable oil, or various dairy products. Dairy is actually another acidic option, with a few additional attributes not offered by the previously mentioned ingredients.

As capsaicin is oil soluble, the addition of a healthy oil like grapeseed, olive, or coconut will help to dissolve and dilute its spicy molecules.

Make sure to choose a neutral tasting oil, or one with a flavor that will complement your dish. Then add just one teaspoon at a time very slowly, to retain the dish’s texture and consistency.

The oil in nut butters like peanut, almond, cashew, and sesame (a.k.a. tahini) will also help to diffuse some of the heat, and these can be used instead of vegetable oil if the flavor of your dish will support the addition of nuts.

Dishes such as Pad Thai, spicy summer rolls, and stir fries are all good candidates for cooling down with a nut butter. Add small amounts while cooking, or use it to create a cooling dipping sauce.

Dairy products also help to counteract the burn of capsaicin because of the presence of casein, a fat-loving protein that’s unique to dairy. It surrounds and binds with the heat-generating oil particles, and then disperses them.

Full fat products are the most effective. Again, add these in small amounts until you notice some relief.

Butter, ghee, cow’s milk, plain yogurt, cheese (particular a soft fresh cheese), and sour cream will all help to ease intense spiciness.

Food just a tad too spicy? Even if you accidentally made a dish from hell with intense heat, you can still turn things around! Try our tips to cool down hot flavors: https://foodal.com/knowledge/herbs-spices/turn-down-the-heat/

Take note that this will also make your sauce creamier! If this isn’t what you’re going for, try adding some grated cheese on top instead.

You can also offer yogurt or sour cream as a condiment or dip, allowing your dinner guests to adjust the flavors to their personal tastes.

Serving shredded cheese and sour cream on the side of a big pot of spicy chili is always a great idea for feeding a crowd – even if you went a little crazy with the hot pepper.

3. Sweeten It Up

Sugars can also help to neutralize spicy heat, as they absorb oils and change the taste somewhat.

Add a little sugar or honey just a teaspoon at a time to balance out flavors in a dish producing too much heat.

Stir well, then allow flavors to blend; after each addition, take a little taste to ensure your main course doesn’t end up tasting like dessert.

4. Double Up and Thin It Out

If you have enough time (and your pot is large enough), you can diffuse the flames by adding more of the main ingredients of the dish – minus the spices, of course!

Depending on what you’re cooking, this could mean adding more sauce, stock, vegetables, or meat.

If you don’t have more of the main ingredients on hand, adding a basic mirepoix will usually work – carrots, celery, and onions all make good additions for stretching and evening out flavors, as will grated potatoes and winter squash.

Going overboard on spiciness can sometimes happen. But just because you stoked a fiery-hot disaster doesn't mean you should start from scratch! Read more: https://foodal.com/knowledge/herbs-spices/turn-down-the-heat/

A final tip: if your sauce is no longer too spicy but it’s become too thin, add more water or another suitable liquid. Then boil and reduce the sauce again until the desired consistency is reached.

But be careful – the process of reducing liquids can again concentrate flavors if you go too far, ruining all of your repair work!

5. Negate Heat with Neutral Grains

Serving a side dish of neutral flavored grains can also help to temper over-spiciness.

Dumped a bit too much hot pepper into your main course this time around? Even if you accidentally made a flaming-hot dish, you can still turn things around! Check out our tips: https://foodal.com/knowledge/herbs-spices/turn-down-the-heat/

Serve your main course over a bed of rice, pasta, couscous, or quinoa to nullify spicy flavors, of offer a selection of breads to absorb the burn.

A Pinch of Prevention

For future dishes, what’s one of the most effective ways to avoid the predicament of a dish that’s too spicy to serve? Add spices only in small portions, and taste as you go.

This is particularly true for recipes that are simmered low and slow. The longer a dish is cooked, the more liquid will evaporate, and this really cannot be emphasized enough – this will concentrate flavors and their intensity.

Forgetting to taste as you cook is one of the most common cooking mistakes. Treat hot spices as you would salt, and remember to taste as you go.

Use only half the recipe’s amount at the start, then judiciously add the remaining quantity in small portions as time and flavors progress, until it’s just right.

The Heat is Off

There’s a solution to every cooking dilemma, and it’s good to know you can back away from the fiery inferno of a too-spicy dish with any of the above cooking hacks.

Of course, the best method is to try not go overboard in the first place!

Remember: add your spices slowly, and taste as you go for best results.

Food just a little too spicy? Or maybe your main course has accidentally taken on an infernal nature? Try our best heat-taming hacks to cool down hot flavors: https://foodal.com/knowledge/herbs-spices/turn-down-the-heat/

If you have any favorite tricks for taming the intensity of hot spices, share your secrets in the comment section below – it’s good cooking karma!

And make sure to check out all of our culinary herb and spice advice, tips, and techniques now. And don’t forget to take a look at Foodal’s Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Herbs and Spices!

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

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About Lorna Kring

Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.

Did your main course accidentally turn out a little (or a lot) too spicy? Try our best heat-taming hacks to cool down your dinner! Read more now on Foodal.

12 thoughts on “Dinner Too Spicy? 5 Cooling Tips to Turn Down the Heat”

  1. Well, these are good ideas. I have tried drinking some milk after eating something too hot, but adding some to the dish is certainly a wise choice. I’ll have to give that a try next time.

    I didn’t know about any of these other tricks, but I will certainly keep them in mind. I especially like the idea of adding some citrus. That usually adds a nice flavor anyway. These idea kills two birds with one stone. I’ll have to give the others some thought as well.

    Very good advice. It took me a while to learn about how things cook down and how that changes the flavor.

    • So true Zyni, learning how to gauge how foods concentrate does take a bit of experience… thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Tomato or lemon juice? That’s a good idea, especially for Indian foods, which already use these. That’s also a good idea for turning down the spiciness of salsa. I often add yogurt or ghee to help with the spiciness, or sometimes I serve the meal with a drink with milk in it, like Thai iced tea or a lassi. I didn’t know about using nut butters, but that would explain why Thai dishes often use peanut sauce. A lot of people think that bread can help, but I’ve found that it really doesn’t, unless it’s something like naan that is already coated with butter, and then it’s mostly that.
    I do have a funny spice story. When I was first learning to make Thai food, I bought one of those little glass jars of green curry paste. I thought you were supposed to add the entire thing to the curry, which I did with one can of coconut milk, and served that and vegetables over rice. It was so spicy that no one could eat it, not even with a glass of milk. I learned my lesson after that time, and I make sure to add curry paste a teaspoon at a time (or less) and taste it often.

    • Oh yes, you are going to want to read your directions before portioning things out, and that is a good one, but sorry to hear that it was a little bit at your expense. I am pretty sure I have caught myself a couple of times about to do something like this….you gotta be careful.

  3. My grandmother used to add a couple of potatoes to anything that was way too hot, allow them to cook and then take them out. She reckoned they absorbed the spiciness. I’m not sure whether it worked for her – I’ve always liked spicy food, so the original dish usually tasted just fine to me.

    • I’ve seen some other people use potatoes this way too. I’ve personally never felt any change in the dish from before the addition of the potatoes. It’s likely a placebo for them.

    • As far as I can tell Sue, starches like potatoes and bread don’t absorb or disperse hot oils – but they do thin out a recipe, and may provide a bit of relief that way.

  4. This article is definitely a good guide for any cook. I used to love eating spicy food but I became sick a few months ago and ever since then whenever I eat anything spicy, my nose begins running. Most of the recipes I use have tons of spices and I forget to change them so I end up having to sit through the meal with my nose running.

    • Some spices certainly loosen up the sinuses Wheezybz – you might try switching them up to see if that will help to check your runny nose in check!

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