How to relieve the burning sensation after eating chili pepper?

You may have experienced this: some peppers sting more than others... And sometimes we're not surprised! As soon as your tongue starts to burn and your body catches fire, it is possible to calm things down. Overview of the best foods to reduce the heating effect of chili peppers. 

Chili peppers are enjoyed in many cuisines around the world, but they can sometimes leave behind an intense burning sensation in the mouth that is difficult to bear . Whether you're a fan of spicy foods or simply underestimated the power of the chili you just tasted, it's essential to know the best tips to soothe that unpleasant feeling .

Reminder: why does chili pepper sting so much?

Why do some peppers sting so much? As Pierre Gayet, member of the Collège Culinaire de France and organic market gardener at Domaine de Vernins, in Dornes, in Nièvre, explains to us, the sensation  of heat and burning inherent to the consumption of peppers is linked to the presence of capsaicin . “This molecule is found naturally in the seeds of the pepper and in its placenta (the white membrane found inside the fruit). And the larger quantities it is present in fruits, the greater the burning sensation. »

Fortunately, as unpleasant as it may be, this sensation is only illusory! Capsaicin does not really burn and does not pose any danger to our health , says Pierre Gayet. “In reality, it tricks the pain receptors in our mouth and causes a burning sensation, even if the peppers are cold,” he explains.

Good to know: the concentration of capsaicin varies depending on the peppers, and is measured on the Scoville scale, which allows you to get an idea of ​​the potency of the peppers. 

Drink milk or eat dairy products

Dairy products are the number one ally to relieve the burning sensation linked to chili peppers. For good reason, they contain  casein and fat .

Why is milk good for chili?

As noted above, milk contains fat that can help soothe heat in the mouth. “Capsaicin is fat soluble, so the fats found in milk can help dilute it and reduce its effect ,” says Pierre Gayet.

Milk also contains casein, a protein that has the ability to bind capsaicin. By binding to capsaicin, it helps dissolve it and detach it from pain receptors in the mouth, reducing the burning sensation .

Ideally, opt for fresh , fattier whole milk . It's best to swallow it to soothe any burning sensation in your throat, but you can also simply swish it around your mouth before spitting it out (mouthwash).  

Ice cream, ideal for relieving pain

Milk is not the only dairy product useful for relieving the burning sensation caused by certain chili peppers. Other dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, cream or ice cream may be good. Not only delicious and comforting, ice cream has the advantage of offering instant relief: its cold and creamy texture helps to numb our taste buds and reduce the burning sensation. 

Enjoy the soothing effect of bread and starch

Foods high in starch, such as bread, potatoes, or rice , can also help reduce the burning sensation. These foods have the ability to absorb capsaicin and act as a physical barrier in the mouth, mitigating the effect of chili pepper. For quick relief , you can eat a few pieces of wholemeal bread or starchy foods. 

Sugar, ideal for relieving the burning sensation

Sugar is well known for soothing the burning sensation caused by chili peppers. A small amount of sugar can neutralize capsaicin by counteracting its pungent nature. For example, you can dissolve a teaspoon of sugar in your mouth or add sugar to a drink to reduce the feeling of heat. Another well-known alternative: savor a teaspoon of honey  directly for a soothing effect.

Saving freshness: focus on fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh vegetables and fruits, such as cucumbers, carrots, or melon slices , can offer immediate but temporary relief due to their high water content. The freshness of these foods helps soothe the burn by rinsing the capsaicin from the mouth.

Furthermore, the vitamins and antioxidants present in these foods promote the healing of irritated mucous membranes. You can also add a little lemon juice to your favorite cold drink: this will make you salivate and help your tongue clean. 

What cold drinks to stop our tongue from burning?

Certain cold drinks can immediately calm the burning sensation, but for a short time, emphasizes Pierre Gayet. Contrary to what one might think, water alone cannot calm the feeling of discomfort. On the contrary, it can quickly spread capsaicin in our mouth and make the situation worse. Instead, choose dairy products like milk, yogurt or cheese mentioned above.  Also avoid hot, carbonated and alcoholic drinks which can stimulate heat receptors in the mouth.

As a last resort, rinse your mouth with oil

Is your mouth on fire and you don't have any of the life-saving foods listed above available? Be aware that the burning sensation generally diminishes over time . In the meantime, try to relax and breathe deeply. As a last resort, if the situation becomes unbearable, rinse your mouth with olive, sunflower, rapeseed oil, etc. Take care not to swallow the oil and spit it out thoroughly, then rinse your mouth with water afterwards. 

Burns in the eyes or hands: what to do?

Chili peppers can sometimes cause burning sensations in the eyes or hands... If you cut chili pepper without wearing gloves and your fingers start to burn:

  • Wash your hands with mild soap to remove capsaicin. 
  • Avoid rubbing your hands together to avoid spreading the capsaicin.
  • Apply vegetable oil to your hands (olive oil, coconut oil, etc.). 
  • Dip your hands in milk or yogurt. 

Regarding burns to the eyes: 

  • Rinse your eyes with physiological serum to remove capsaicin.
  • Apply milk or yogurt to a compress and place it over your closed eyes. Avoid rubbing.
  • Apply cold water compresses to your eyes to relieve inflammation.
  • And if the pain persists or worsens, consult a doctor. 

What precautions should be taken when handling or eating chili peppers?

To limit accidents, follow these few tips:

  • Wear gloves when handling chili peppers  to avoid direct contact with the skin. This reduces the risk of skin irritation, especially if you are handling extremely hot varieties of peppers. You can also wear a mask or glasses, advises Pierre Gayet.
  • After handling chili peppers, avoid touching your face (especially your eyes) or genitals! 
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water, making sure to clean the spaces under your nails and between your fingers  to remove any traces of capsaicin.
  • Avoid using the same utensils for chili peppers and other foods (capsaicin could be transferred from one ingredient to another).
  • Make sure to ventilate your kitchen well , as capsaicin vapors released during cooking can be irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract.
  • Finally, if you are not used to spicy dishes, obviously start with small amounts of chili and gradually increase according to your tolerance . This will limit unpleasant surprises!

Mouth on fire: how to prevent the burning sensation and discomfort?

The first step to preventing the burning sensation is obviously to remove the seeds and membranes from the chili peppers. You also need to know your own tolerance threshold for spicy foods. “We all have a different sensitivity to capsaicin,” emphasizes Pierre Gayet. Start with moderately spicy dishes and gradually increase the intensity according to your comfort. This allows your palate to gradually adapt to the heat.

Eating slowly also gives our palate time to respond to flavors and allows our brain to signal the heat level to our body. By taking your time , you can better appreciate the flavors while minimizing the initial shock of capsaicin. In addition, chewing spicy foods thoroughly allows for better distribution of flavors in the mouth.

Always have fire-safe foods at home and avoid hot, carbonated or alcoholic drinks. If you're cooking spicy dishes, be sure to control the intensity of sauces by adjusting the amounts of chili pepper or using milder alternatives . Feel free to experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor without increasing the burning sensation.

How to soften a dish that is too spicy or reduce the spicy taste of a sauce?

Is your curry too spicy and you don't dare serve it to your guests? Before getting rid of it, try these few tips: 

  • Add neutral ingredients  to your dish to balance flavors, such as rice, pasta, or unseasoned potatoes. 
  • Double the amounts of each ingredient , except chili, to dilute the heat.
  • Add a small amount of raw sugar, honey or even maple syrup  to your dish to counteract the heat.  Sweet fruits , such as diced mango, pineapple or peach, can also add a refreshing sweet touch.  Fresh vegetables can also provide a welcome freshness.
  • Incorporate dairy products into your recipe : add liquid cream, milk, creamy cheese, natural yogurt or even coconut milk!
  • Play with the acidity by adding  a little lemon juice or vinegar to rebalance your dish. 
  • Counterbalance with other mild spices such as cinnamon or cumin to make up for the excess chili.
  • Some people also use sesame pastepeanut butter , hazelnut, almond or even cashew puree to sweeten their dish. 
  • Reduce the concentration of chili pepper by gradually adding broth or water to your dish to make it less spicy without removing its spicy taste. 
  • In case of emergency, you can always add small pieces of dry bread which will absorb the excess chili . Try it and remember to remove them before serving!

Regardless, taste regularly and gradually adjust the recipe according to your preferences to avoid altering the original dish too much.