How To Tone Down Spicy Chili
Two food trends that have exploded in the last couple of years are quick meals and spicy foods. That is exactly why chili con carne (or chili) has become such a staple meal in many homes.
But when you push your boundaries with spicy foods, you will eventually reach your limit. You have just made the biggest pot of chili and just looking at it makes you sweaty. You don’t want to waste it, but you don’t want to taste it either.
So, what are some ways to tone down spicy chili? If it is too late to cut back on the spice in the first place, the best way to tone down spicy chili is to add ingredients that both compliment the flavors of the chili and cut through the spicinesses, such as dairy, fatty foods, citric acid, or sugar.
In this article, we will look at different ingredients and methods you can use to tone down spicy chili and explain why they work.
What Is Chili?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with chili, it’s also known as “chili con carne,” which directly translates to “chili with meat.”
Chili is a spicy stew that mainly consists of chili peppers, ground meat, tomatoes or tomato paste, and beans. It also contains a variety of seasonings such as garlic and cumin.
Its recipe is by no means set in stone, and ingredients are easily substituted with others based on taste preferences. You can get many different types of chili, such as chicken, pork, or traditional beef.
Vegetables can also be added and spices are often substituted.
This flexibility with the ingredients makes it extremely easy to tone down the spiciness by adding other ingredients. The only thing to keep in mind when adding is to make sure the ingredients complement one another.
Ways to Tone Down Spicy Chili
There’s nothing worse than finally sitting down to enjoy your favorite chili recipe only to realize you’ve accidentally added so much spice you may as well be slurping down lava.
We’re here to tell you the best way to tame the flame.
1. Check the recipe
The best way to fix a spicy chili is to prevent the chili from being too spicy in the first place, or next time that you have the chance.
Before making the recipe, check it to see if the amount of chili called for is in line with what you can handle.
If you are not sure how much spice you can handle, or how much chili is too much chili, start by using half the amount recommended. You can always add more later, but it is harder to reduce the spice if you start out with too much.
You can either further reduce the quantity if the chili is still too hot or use more if it wasn’t spicy enough.
Also, if you make chili often, or just want to make better chili, I found this cookbook a while back and am completely in love with it.
2. Dilute the Spiciness
If you’ve already made the chili and realize it is way too hot, you can dilute the spiciness by adding more ingredients.
The easiest way to do this is to double the recipe except for the chili powder or chilis (or any other ingredient that adds spiciness).
You will need to cook those ingredients separately, otherwise, the first batch of ingredients will be hopelessly overcooked.
After cooking the second batch without any chili, incorporate the two batches into each other and cook for a couple of minutes. Your final result will be much less spicy.
3. Add More Dairy
Dairy is one of the best and easiest ways to counteract spice. If you are not vegan or lactose intolerant and don’t mind a bit of creaminess in your chili, this one’s for you.
There are 5 types of dairy we would recommend:
- Sour cream
In our opinion, yogurt or sour cream is the best form of dairy to add, due to the slight tartness and thick consistency.
Only use Greek yogurt (double cream plain yogurt), as other flavors might conflict with the dish.
Cheese is also a good option to compliment the flavor of the dish, but it is somewhat less effective in reducing the spiciness in smaller quantities and is best used in tandem with other spice-reducing ingredients.
Chilis contain an oily chemical compound called capsaicin, which binds to the receptors in your tongue, causing a burning sensation.
The casein found in dairy products has the ability to bind with the capsaicin and essentially neutralize it.
If you were to use milk or cream, it will help with diluting the spiciness, but your chili con carne will look more like chili soup.
If you only have milk on hand, add it and continue to simmer your chili on a low heat until a lot of the excess liquid evaporates.
A bonus dairy product you can add is butter. Butter is extremely fatty, and also contains dairy, but the reason we didn’t include it in the list is because you would need too much of it before it will start making a difference.
The consistency, flavor and texture of the chili will be altered too much – there are much better substitutions. You can, however, serve it with the bread and potatoes that we will discuss farther ahead.
4. Add Acid
Acidic ingredients you could add include:
- Lemon or lime juice
- Wine vinegar (red or white)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Diced tomatoes
Acid or acidic ingredients do wonders for your food, and some of them even enhance the flavors in your dish, especially lime juice.
Capsaicin (the chemical compound that causes the heat of chilis) is an alkaline oil, meaning it has a high pH number.
By using any acids which are low on the pH scale, the two ingredients will neutralize each other and end up more to the middle.
You don’t necessarily need to add a ton of acid. Rather, slowly add and taste between additions until you feel happy with the result.
The best wines to use would be very acidic wines, such as Riesling, Muscadet or Chablis. Any other wine will help due to its sugar content, but not as much as a wine with both acid and sugar.
Tomatoes are also naturally acidic and will work great if you have a tomato-based sauce
6. Add Sugar
We will use any excuse to add sugar to our food, but this reason can be backed by science.
Sweeter ingredients have the ability to absorb the spicy capsaicin oils. But don’t use a heavy hand. Slowly incorporate the sweetener you have chosen, as some are sweeter than others. You don’t want to end up with a meaty dessert.
Sweet ingredients you can use include:
- Granulated sugar (white or brown)
- Sweeteners (xylitol)
If the sauce is tomato-based, you can add more tomato sauce, as it also contains a lot of sugar and will counteract the chilis.
7. Add Nut Butter
If you’re not allergic to nuts and don’t mind a slightly nutty taste to your chili, you can add nut butter.
Nuts contain a lot of fats and sugars. As we have already discussed, sugars do help a lot with spicy foods, but another reason nuts work is because of all the fats in them.
You can use any type of nut butter such as almond, macadamia, or cashew. You can also try using peanut sauce or nut dressings.
8. Add Avocado
If you are lucky enough to have avocados on hand, mash them up into guacamole and mix it into the chili or slice them and add them on top of your chili as a useful garnish.
Avocados are very fatty, which works the same as the fats in nut butters do.
9. Add Alcohol
This isn’t one we have ever tried before, but people swear by it. Alcohols with a very high proof, in theory, will be able to dissolve the capsaicin oils in your mouth.
So next time you’ve just got too much spice on your hands, try taking a few sips of vodka or brandy and see if it works for you. If not, at least you’ve now got something to help you forget about the burn.
10. Serve With Bland and Starchy Foods
Have you ever wondered why most spicy foods such as curry are served with rice or bread? It is because they are great carriers for the spiciness.
If you don’t want to change anything in your chili but it is still extremely spicy, try serving it with bland and starchy foods.
- Rice, perfectly cooked and un-spiced
- Potatoes in different forms like mash or boiled
- Breads, untoasted and soft
Breads especially serve as a great barrier between the capsaicin oils and your mouth as it absorbs them quickly.
Certain breads also serve as a great serving vessel to scoop up your chili. We recommend naan or parathas (roti).
Can I Add Water?
You would be better off not using anything at all. Capsaicin is an oil, and as we all know, oil and water don’t mix well. The only thing that water will do is thin down the consistency.
What Can I Do to Stop the Burning Afterward?
Your best bet is to use milk, but contrary to what everyone tells you, do not swallow it.
The reason for this is because the milk only carries those capsaicin oils down your throat and not out of your mouth.
It is best to keep the milk in your mouth for a few seconds and spit it out. This will help the burning disappear much faster.
Are There Any Other Fatty Ingredients to Use?
Believe it or not, milk chocolate will make a great neutralizer before and after because of its sweetness and its high-fat content.
Some recipes might be able to handle the chocolate flavors, but others won’t. You can still eat some after the meal to help ease the burn.
If You Can Add Wine and Strong Alcohols, Can You Add Beer?
This might not seem like a problem, but it is not recommended. Beers are highly carbonated. That only enhances the sensation in your mouth and will cause the burning to get worse.
Also, stay away from any other carbonated drinks.
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Hi Jaron- I wanted to thank you and let you know that your tips and solutions for taking down the spice level in chili was spot on! The batch I made was almost unbearable and adding Greek yogurt with some lime juice turned it into a whole different beast! Appreciate the tip on using milk to cool your mouth but spitting it out instead of drinking it, too. I think you’re brilliant!
I almost always add a teaspoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder to my chili – it moderates the spice and adds a distinct depth to the flavour overall without actually becoming sugary.