If you're anything like me, you have one motto when it comes to food: the hotter, the better (more wasabi, please). But if you don't share my love for spicy food and the sweaty pain that accompanies it, don't fret. You can eat and enjoy spicy food with a little knowledge on what exactly makes food spicy and how to soothe the post-meal burn.
Why Spicy Food Tastes Hot
One word–capsaicin. Capsaicin (pronounced kap-SAY-uh-sin) is the active ingredient in spicy food. It binds to a special class of vanilloid receptors in our mouth called VR1 receptors. When capsaicin binds to these receptors, the sensory neuron deporalizes and indicates the presence of spicy stimuli.The strangest part? VR1 receptors weren't intended to detect spice. This is purely accidental. Rather, VR1 receptors are meant to detect heat. So, spicy food isn't actually "hot." Your neural receptors are just confused.
There's a reason your Mexican food comes with sour cream and your Buffalo wings are served with ranch dressing. Milk contains the protein casein, which washes capsaicin molecules away from the nerve receptors in your mouth.
#SpoonTip: If the milk is cold, this will help soothe the burning sensation in your mouth.
If You're 21...
Here's your excuse to order a beer or a glass of wine next time you're out to dinner. While milk is ultimately the best option for cooling down, alcohol is not far behind. Capsaicin is soluble in alcohol, meaning that alcoholic beverages can help wash down the burn.
Eat the Burn Away
Starches like bread and rice act like a sponge, absorbing some of the capsaicin before it hits you. Marshmallows are also a good alternative if you don't have access to a starch.
If the burn is too much to handle, take some ibuprofen to help with the pain and inflammation. But next time you get your Thai takeout, stop at a grocery store and pick up some whole milk while you're at it.