10 Ways To Make Food Less Spicy & Keep It Flavorful
by HexClad Cookware
Spice is one of the most exciting and interesting flavors out there. A little bit of heat makes a dish pop as no other taste can. With so many different spicy ingredients at your disposal, the possibilities are essentially limitless.
But very few people love spiciness just for the sake of spiciness. When you cook, you want the depth and complexity that spice brings, but if it overpowers the dish, it might not be as enjoyable.
Today, we’re going to look at 10 different hacks to help you get those spicy flavors in your food but tone them down just enough to keep the dish pleasant and flavorful.
How Do You Make Food Less Spicy? 10 Ways
1. Add Lemon or Lime Juice
One of the most tried and true ways to cut down the heat of a dish is to use a bit of lemon or lime juice. When it comes to bringing down spicy flavors in a dish, acidity is your ally. Fortunately, lemons and limes have acidity to spare.
Lime is a great choice if you’re working with salsa, an enchilada sauce, or some other Mexican food. Even if lime isn’t one of the ingredients listed in your recipe, it fits perfectly with the flavor profile of Mexican foods, so limes are an excellent tool for making your dish a little more bearable when it comes to heat.
Lemons tend to work well for Asian food and fit beautifully with those flavor profiles. Since lemons are native to many different regions in Asia, lemon juice is commonly found in Asian food anyway. And, of course, limes work well for this application, too.
Limes also work great as a topping or add-on to serve alongside a dish. That way, your guests can add a bit of lime juice if they need it, but they can keep it out if they want a little bit more heat.
2. Cook With Wine
Wine is another great way to reduce the spiciness in a dish and enhance its flavor. Spicy flavors are created by a chemical compound in food called capsaicin. It creates that burning sensation that you feel when you eat something spicy, like hot peppers. Both acidity and sugar can reduce the effects of capsaicin in the mouth, and wine is unique because it has both.
White wine is especially good for this purpose because it tends to have a bit more sweetness and acidity than red wine. The sugars in the wine coat the tongue and work to combat that capsaicin. The acidity works to cut the spiciness at its source.
On top of that, white wine tends to have a bit less alcohol than red wine. High alcohol content can actually ramp up the spicy flavors, so don’t use a wine with a high ABV.
You’ll find that both chefs and home cooks frequently utilize wine when cooking Italian food. Use wine to deglaze your pan before making a sauce, and you’ll find rich flavors that you might not have had before. Plus, it has the added benefit of making that spiciness rounder and more beneficial to the dish as a whole.
3. Drizzle in Some Vinegar
Vinegar is a highly acidic ingredient that will help you tone down spicy flavors in a dish bursting with heat. Because of all the acidity in vinegar, all you’ll need is a spoonful or a drizzle.
You’ll use a different type of vinegar depending on the flavor profile you’re going for. White distilled vinegar is a more neutral option, but your dish could also benefit from apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar if you want a twist. In addition, the sugars in apple cider vinegar will help cut the spice even more and add a bit more flavor and complexity to your dish.
But with vinegar, even a small amount can dramatically change the flavor of a dish. Make sure you add vinegar in small amounts to cut the spice without overpowering the dish with too-strong sour flavors and aroma.
4. Add Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a fantastic way to provide a cooling effect to your dish. This oil made from coconuts can be used as fat to cook your foods, and it adds a subtle touch of coconut flavor to your meal.
Coconut oil has residual sugars that help tame the spicy flavors in your dish, but it’s the coconut oil’s fat content that does all the heavy lifting when it comes to tamping down the spice.
Fats work to break down the layer of capsaicin that is responsible for the burning sensation of spicy foods. That means foods like coconut oil and avocados with a higher fat content are great for making spicy foods taste a little more flavorful and a whole lot more manageable.
Coconut oil is an especially great ingredient to add to Indian or Thai food. Coconut milk and other coconut ingredients are common in these cuisines, so adding an extra dose of subtle flavor is a great way to cut the spice.
5. Throw in the Yogurt or Sour Cream
Dairy products like yogurt and sour cream are other high-fat ingredients that can lessen the impact of chili peppers and other spicy seasonings. A dollop of either one will help break down those capsaicin molecules while also adding a pleasant creaminess to your dish.
Sour cream can give you a more tangy twist, while yogurt is milder, more subtle, and texturally different. Just make sure you use plain yogurt and not flavored yogurt, so you don’t risk throwing off the flavor profile of the whole dish.
Sour cream also works great as a side dish or add-on. Every guest can decide how much sour cream they want and can hit their preferred spice level.
6. Top Your Dish With Cheese
Cheese makes any meal that much better. For Mexican food, cotija cheese works amazingly. If you’re dishing up Italian-inspired pasta, there’s the classic parmesan or mozzarella. For typical American foods, Colby jack is a great choice.
The fat in cheese helps make any spice a little more manageable, but cheese has so much more to offer than just that. It adds a creaminess unlike any other, and some cheeses even have a little tang that can bring a dish to a whole new level.
Cheese is an incredibly powerful ingredient, and there are so many different types, each with its own unique flavor that can enhance a dish. There’s a cheese that goes with pretty much every cuisine, so no matter what you’re cooking, you can find the perfect cheese to bring the whole dish together.
7. Add a Bit of Honey
The sweetness of just a bit of honey is the perfect contrast to cayenne, jalapenos, or spicy chiles. There’s a reason why hot honey is so popular on dishes like chicken and waffles: honey and spiciness are the perfect pair.
The sugars in the honey work to cut down the punch of the spiciness, and the spiciness gives new life to the delicious honey. It’s a synergistic relationship that just works.
Honey works well with most cuisines, and even a little spoonful of this sweetener can help lower the heat factor of your meal. A great meal is all about balance, and finding the perfect balance between sweet and spicy can make any dish seem a little extra special.
If honey doesn’t suit the dish that you’re making, a pinch of another sweetener works well too. Brown sugar can provide a deep sweetness similar to honey, and cane sugar adds a nice standard sweetness that can go well in pretty much any dish.
8. Dilute Your Sauces
Perhaps the simplest way to make your meal a bit less spicy is by diluting your spicy sauce. This will make the spicy flavors go a little less far.
You could just do this with a bit of water, but the goal here is to make spicy food that’s rich and flavorful, not weak and watered down.
So, if it’s possible, dilute your sauce with the ingredients that are in the recipe, whether it’s broth, tomato sauce, or something else. That way, your sauce stays bold and flavorful instead of becoming watery and weak.
9. Cook Spicy Meals With Tahini
If you’ve never heard of tahini, you’re missing out on one of the greatest ingredients in the world. Tahini is a unique sauce that’s made from sesame seeds and oil. The sesame is toasted, ground up, and emulsified with oil to make a sauce that is creamy, toasty, and delicious.
Tahini is a Middle Eastern ingredient that is sometimes served on its own but is also used as an important component in hummus or baba ganoush. It’s creamy, it’s toasty, and it’s delicious.
It works to cut spicy flavors with its natural fat content. The sesame seeds and the oil both contain fat, so this ingredient works to reduce heat very well.
But this ingredient is also delicious on its own. Tahini has a brilliant creaminess as well as a complex toasty flavor that elevates the whole dish.
10. Serve Spicy Dishes Over Rice or Quinoa
One very simple way to keep the spiciness down in a dish is by serving your spicy curry or sauce over a bed of rice or quinoa. Carbohydrates like rice and quinoa are high in glucose, which is where the magic comes from.
As we discussed, sugar can help balance a meal and keep the spice level where it should be. The subtle sugars in rice and quinoa can help to keep the spice down without overwhelming the dish.
Using one of these grains still lets the spiciness shine but doesn’t let it get too close to the sun.
On top of that, rice and quinoa are starchy foods. This starch helps to act as a barrier between your tongue and the capsaicin. This effectively slows down the spice molecule to make the eating experience more enjoyable.
It may seem like an overly simple solution, but spicy sauces and curries are commonly served with rice, and for a good reason. It’s the perfect way to help tame some spiciness.
The Bottom Line
Spice is exciting. The burning sensation gets your adrenaline going. Any meal becomes something closer to thrilling, if not downright provocative. Spice adds an important element that all good cooks should use.
Part of knowing how to utilize spice is knowing how to tame it when it gets to be too much without messing with the integrity of the dish. Now you have all the knowledge you need to do just that.
Acidity, sweetness, and fats are all tools that you have at your disposal in your kitchen. Use them to create delicious, spicy dishes that you and your guests will enjoy.
For more information about helping your cooking reach the highest standards, HexClad is here to help. Not only does HexClad specialize in creating innovative cooking technology and quality equipment, but we’ve got your back with recipes and cooking tips.
Check HexClad out today and take your cooking to the next level.
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