What do jerk chicken, Hot Cheetos and wasabi all have in common?
They can all light your tongue on fire. But don’t reach for a glass of ice water. Wipe away your tears and pay attention. Some foods and drinks can instantly put out the flames, but others will only feed the fire.
Milk contains casein, a compound that binds with spicy oils and washes them down your throat. Don’t believe me? Industrial casein is also used in match products (like match boxes and safety matches) to prevent accidental sparks.
Suck on a spoonful of sugar (or a pinch of salt) to make the spices go down in the most delightful way.
Sucking on a spoonful of sugar will counteract the spiciness, and a pinch of salt will absorb it. This trick also works when you’re cooking and you’ve added a little too much spiciness to your dish.
Eat bread, crackers or tortillas.
These three foods work because they give your mouth something different to focus on. The slightly rougher texture preoccupies your tongue and gives the spiciness a chance to fade away quietly.
Eat citrus fruit.
There’s a reason spicy dishes often come with a side of lemon or lime. The oils from the citrus bind with the oils from the spicy food, and both glide safely down your throat.
As mentioned earlier, water (of any temperature) does not help a burning tongue. Sure, it puts out real fires just fine, but when you drink it, it simply spreads out the spiciness in your mouth and makes matters worse. Oil and water don’t mix.
Drink carbonated drinks.
Because sodas are water-based, you’ll have the exact same problem if you take a swig of soda to cool down a burning tongue. The fizzing that happens after only makes your poor mouth feel worse because the pain receptors are already overstimulated.
Sadly, beer doesn’t do any better than water. First of all, it’s water-based, like soda, so it just smears around the burning. Secondly, the amount of alcohol in it is too low to be helpful—you’ll need something much, much stronger to even start to dissolve the spicy oils (not recommended).
Here we have another water-based no-no. Save coffee (iced or hot) for after your tongue has cooled down; otherwise, you might end up with a burning tongue and nasty heartburn.
So, go ahead. Eat those jalapeño peppers, that vindaloo pork or whatever spicy dish is calling your name. You’re ready now.