The Sweet Way To Balance Super Spicy Dishes

If you love spicy foods, sooner or later a moment comes when you prepare a dish and then realize you went a little overboard with the spice. Even worse, you have guests coming over and don't have time to start over. We've all been there. Luckily, there are ways to turn the heat down.

First, it helps to consider what makes food taste spicy, since understanding this helps us recognize how we can balance the flavor. As BBC's Science Focus explains, chili peppers contain compounds called capsaicinoids which bind to our mouths' heat-detecting receptors. This tricks the brain into responding to the food as if it were actually hot. This is why you experience that burning sensation, runny nose, and may even start to sweat while consuming spicy foods.

Certain common ingredients alter the way your mouth's receptors interact with capsaicin, and adding these types of ingredients balances the heat. For example, milk or other dairy products contains a protein called casein that binds with capsaicin before it hits the receptors (per Physiology & Behavior). As a result, our brain still interprets it as hot — just not as hot. Some people are surprised to learn about the sweetest way to balance your super spicy dish using a common ingredient that you probably already have.

Fight fire with sugar

The Scoville Scale measures the amount of capsaicin in chili pepper in units, according to Masterclass. The number of "Scoville units" for each pepper refers to how many units of sugar water are required to neutralize the heat. In other words, adding sugar or honey to a spicy dish will make spicy food seem less spicy. The more sugar you add, the less heat you will feel.

If you don't want your dish to taste too sweet, you can still balance it by adding other starches like potatoes, rice, or couscous (per Eating Well). If you are looking for another tasty way to neutralize spicy foods, you may be interested in trying peanut butter or another nut butter.

There are a range of tasty ingredient options to calm the heat, including milk, yogurt, sugar, starchy grains, or nut butter. If none of these work, you could simply try bulking up the dish with more non-spicy ingredients to dilute the heat. This way, if your guests say your meal is fire, they mean it's delicious — not that they feel like they are on fire!