The Delicate Art of Spiciness
I like a bit of spiciness to some dishes, especially Mexican foods and Cajun dishes. That heat that’s added by chilli pepper, jalapenos and other seasonings can take a dish that is simply decent and elevate it, making it more interesting. I’m a fan of adding the unexpected spiciness as well, putting a bit of heat into dishes that you might not expect it in to give them a bit of intrigue.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Risks of Over-Spicing
I know that there is always a risk of making food too spicy. If you are not used to eating spicy foods, it may not take much heat to make the food unpalatable. If you are not used to cooking with hot peppers and other spicy seasonings, it is easy to go overboard on them and not even realise it until you are biting into the dish. What what an unexpected experience that is!
The Challenge of Adjusting Spices
Once you get used to cooking with some spicy seasonings, you will get better at judging how much should go into a dish and you will be able to control it better, but until then, you may have some unpleasant, unfortunate mistakes.
The Difficulty of Cooking Spicy Food for Others
There is also the problem of cooking spicy food for other people. Each person has their own tolerance level for spiciness, and you don’t always know that that is. How to make food less spicy for guests and family members? How to get the spiciness under control so that the food is palatable and enjoyable? There is the risk that you will kill the flavour and overwhelm your food with spiciness. There must be a way to fix it, but how to make spicy food less spicy?
Effective Methods to Control Heat in Food
I want to share with you a few methods I use to get the heat under control in foods I make. These are tested and proven methods that anyone can use, and I will give you enough variety in heat control options so that you will be able to handle the spiciness in any kind of dish.
Pick the Right Sides
The simplest ways are sometimes the most effective ways, and the easiest way to deal with spicy food without diluting the flavour or messing up the dish and its carefully chosen ingredients is to choose out the right side dishes to go with it.
Examples of Effective Sides for Spicy Dishes
So, if you have a spicy food that is too spicy, you can get it under control by choosing a bland or starchy food as a side. This counteracts the spiciness, and you can eat the two together to pleasant effect as the side dish handles the overpowering spiciness in an agreeable way.
This is why chips are served with salsa or spicy burritos have a bland tortilla shell with them. These are built-in ways to handle the spiciness of some of the ingredients, and you can do the same with your food.
Some dishes that are great at diluting spiciness when used as a side are breads, potatoes, root vegetables, and pasta. If you find that your main dish is too spicy, just pick out one of these sides to go with it and help deal with the heat level of your main course.
Add More Ingredients
Another simple way to make a food less spicy without changing the flavour too much is to add more of the non-spicy ingredients to that food. This is my favourite way how to make a food less spicy.
How to Preserve Flavour While Reducing Heat
So, if you have a chili soup that is overly hot and spicy, you can simply add in more of the ingredients that aren’t spicy, like ground beef, beans, and even water. Be careful about adding in too many bland foods to your dish. You can kill the flavour, so watch that flavour balance as you try to dilute the spiciness.
Remember that you are not trying to remove the flavour of the dish but tone down the spiciness. There is a difference there, and you have to be careful about how all of your food’s different flavours interact with and balance out one another.
Add in Some Milk
How to make your food less spicy without adding a bunch of extra food? Milk is a great heat dispeller. Milk is excellent at getting rid of the heat in a food or toning it down, if used sparingly. Some soups and most anything that is cheesy can be toned down using milk.
Be careful about adding diary to anything that doesn’t have it already. Diary can drastically change the flavour and acidic balance of the food, but in appropriate situations, adding milk is a great way to control the heat.
Add in Some Sugar
This is one you have to be careful of, but introducing some extra sugar to a food can have an effect on the spiciness. The problem with using sugar as a spiciness diluter is that you can make your food too sweet and too sugary. If you don’t want the dish to turn into dessert, just add sugar sparingly. You probably won’t need a lot of added sugar to get the spiciness under control, so only add a little bit at a time and test it out before adding any more.
Add Some Acid
Did you know that many dishes call for acid as a way to counteract spicy chilies and other spicy foods? This is true of Thai foods in particular, which use lime and other kinds of citrus to help cover up the very spicy chilis used in the dish, and you can do the same thing. Adding some lemon zest, lime juice or some other acidic liquid to the food can tone down the spiciness a bit. This can make the food more palatable and give it an extra bit of flavour as well, so it’s win-win if you know what you are doing.
One acid that is easy to add to dishes and works in so many of them is ketchup. This is really useful if you are serving slightly spicy foods to kids. They typically don’t like spicy foods at all, but they tend to love ketchup. So, an easy solution for food that is too spicy for a kid is to smother it in ketchup. That may be a lot easier and simpler than trying to cook separate food for kids and adults. Knowing what you can add to tone down the spiciness can save you work and help you to get a spiciness level that you can handle.
What Not to Do
I want to end this guide in a note about something you should not do if you are looking for how to make Thai food less spicy or tone down the spiciness in your breakfast sausage. There are certain kinds of foods that enhance the spiciness of a dish. One of those is a hot drink. If you have some hot cocoa, tea, or coffee with your meal, that will increase the spiciness. I’m not sure if you have ever noticed this, but it is definitely something to watch out for.
If you are eating something spicy with your meal and you are concerned about it being too spicy, then drink something cold or room temperature with your meal. Drinking something hot will bring out that spiciness even more and enhance it, so do not drink anything hot with a meal that is already too spicy for you.
What ingredients can I add to reduce the spiciness of a dish without compromising its flavour?
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, or cream are excellent for reducing the heat in a dish, thanks to a protein they contain called casein, which binds to the spicy capsaicin oils and helps neutralize them. Coconut milk can also be used for this purpose, especially in Thai and Indian dishes. Adding a bit of sugar or honey can also help to balance out the spiciness. Acidic ingredients like vinegar or citrus juices can also help to neutralize the heat.
How can I adjust a recipe that requires hot spices, to make it less spicy while keeping its overall flavor?
You can reduce the amount of spicy ingredients like chili peppers, hot sauce, or cayenne pepper. If the recipe calls for fresh hot peppers, remove the seeds and the white inner ribs before adding them to your dish, as these parts contain the most heat. Use aromatic spices like cumin, paprika, or turmeric to maintain a rich flavor without adding heat.
Is it possible to remove the spicy component from an already-cooked dish without diluting its taste?
Once a dish is already cooked, it’s harder to remove the spiciness without affecting the overall flavor. However, you can try to add more of the non-spicy ingredients to dilute the heat. If the dish is a soup or stew, you could add more broth or water and then boost the flavor with more of the non-spicy seasonings. If the dish is something like a curry or stir-fry, adding more vegetables, protein, or coconut milk can help. Serving the spicy dish with a cooling side like a dairy-based raita or a cucumber salad can also help to mitigate the heat when eating.