Were you a little too gutsy with your "make it extra-spicy!" order at that new Thai restaurant? Did you accidentally misread the amount of chili powder and cayenne you were supposed to put in that chili you just made? Whatever the reason, your mouth is on fire now, and you need help. What do to?
First of all, absolutely do not drink water in hopes of putting out the flames. In case you don't know from past experience, it doesn't work. At all. In fact, it's probably the worst thing you can do, according to a new study from New Mexico State University's Chile Pepper Institute. So, what does work? The study points to three ingredients that will kill that fire faster than anything else:
Spicy food aficionados may know this already, but milk is actually the most effective in dousing those flames. But ice cream? Yup, it works too according to the study. That's because the proteins in milk and related dairy products quickly counteract the effects of the capsaicin, the compound that causes ingredients like chile peppers to create a fiery sensation in your mouth.
"It turns out that milk has a protein in it that replaces the capsaicin on the receptors on your tongue," said Paul Bosland, the chair of the Chile Pepper Institute and a Regents Professor at NMSU. "It's really the quickest way to alleviate the burning feeling."
Here's your excuse to double up on the naan bread when you order Indian food: "Carbohydrates also replace the capsaicin on the receptors," Bosland added, "just not as effectively as milk." And the reason why water or beer (often considered a fire-tamer) won't work? They just swirl the capsaicin around on your palate without doing anything to combat it, according to the report.
Excellent news for the sweet-toothed: Sugar is even more helpful than bread in taming that fiery sensation, according to the study. "Sugar is the better of the two," said Boland. He adds that the reason why red peppers don't tend to be as hot as green ones is because they have more sugar. And here's possibly the best news of all: Boland says "traditional Mexican desserts like flan and sopapillas with honey" bring together all three of the fire-fighting ingredients in one neat little package because they're "made from breads, sugars and milk." We're not sure what it would be like to alternate bites of flan with dips of that scorching-hot salsa as we eat our dinner, but we're definitely willing to give it a shot.
Another thing that works in taming spicy foods? Outer space. Astronauts don't feel the effects of fiery ingredients as much when they're orbiting the earth. Boland says scientists don't know precisely why yet, but if you ever get the chance to pull a Major Tom, bring all the scotch bonnet peppers you can stuff into your flightsuit.
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