Does Drinking Milk Really Help With Spicy Food?

Pop quiz: if you've eaten something with a ton of chili peppers in it and feel like you've just set your whole mouth on fire, do you reach for (A) a bottle of beer, (B) a can of soda, or (C) a glass of milk

If you went for a glass of beer or soda, we'd love to hear your thoughts on how you did afterward, but if you reached for a glass of milk like your grandma might have suggested at one point, you may want to know why the flames in your mouth went out so quickly. Numerous sites like Food Network say it all comes down to casein, the milk protein, which helps to cut the bonds capsaicin forms with your nerve endings (and which give your mouth the burning sensation). By cutting these bonds, casein actually works the same way soap might do in getting rid of grease on your hands or on dishes. 

But does the milk have to be whole instead of skim? That's a question researchers at the Sensory Evaluation Center at Penn State's College of Agricultural Studies got to address when they tested five beverages – purified water, cola, cherry Kool-Aid, seltzer water, non-alcoholic beer, skim milk, and whole milk – against a Bloody Mary mix which was rated above "moderate" but below "strong" on the burn scale by 72 participants (via Science Daily). Unsurprisingly, whole milk tested the best, but researchers were surprised that skim milk worked just as well.

Nut milks don't help with spicy food

It turns out that a drink's fat content was not as important as the protein found in it. Lest you think the interaction works with all types of milk, Psychology Today says only milk from mammals has casein, which means nut milks and soy milk will do nothing to soothe the savage flames which may have taken over your mouth.

Researchers say you should also manage your expectations you don't have any milk handy and are hoping alcoholic beverages or sodas will also work to put out the fire. "Beverages with carbonation such as beer, soda, and seltzer water predictably performed poorly at reducing the burn of capsaicin. And if the beer tested would have contained alcohol, it would have been even worse because ethanol amplifies the sensation," lead researcher for the Penn State study, Alissa Nolden says. If you don't have milk, Kool-Aid could also do the trick – not because it eliminates the heat-inducing element capsaicin but because it's so sweet it drowns everything else out (via Science Daily).