Have you ever underestimated the heat of chili peppers or powders added to your dish? Me, always! How about mistaking one pepper for another? Or substituting a hotter pepper for another because there’s no other available swap? Whatever the reason, sauces can become excessively spicy with ordinary kitchen mishaps, and it is up to you to correct them.
There is no single universal solution that can reduce the heat in all of your homemade sauces, but you can try a variety of methods based on your dish. This generally means tweaking your dish to add dairy, sweetness, or an acidic ingredient to taper the heat. Doing so will mean adjusting the taste of your recipe to achieve your final output.
There are several ways to deal with exceptionally hot food without having to toss it out and start again, so let’s take a more in-depth look. But first, let’s try to understand why dishes become spicy in the first place so we can hopefully avoid this again in the future.
- What Makes Food Spicy?
- 7 Ways to Make Sauce Less Spicy
- 1. Choose the right type of pepper to use.
- 2. Increase the Amount of your Base Ingredients.
- a. Double Up the Recipe but without the Spicy Ingredient
- b. Increase the Ingredients in the Dish Except for the Spicy Ingredient
- 3. Increase the Amount of Dairy in the Sauce
- 4. Add Any Kind of Broth to the Sauce
- 5. Add an Acidic Ingredient
- 6. Add a Sweetener
- 7. Add Fat like Butter or Olive Oil
What Makes Food Spicy?
Before getting into the ways we can remedy our dish, let’s first talk about what makes food spicy. People say that spice isn’t a flavor but a sensation. The chemical capsaicin present in chili peppers and a few other ingredients are responsible for this spicy sensation.
Capsaicin generates a burning or tingling sensation when it comes into contact with the tongue or other mucous membranes, giving the impression of spiciness. It works by stimulating pain receptors in the mouth and throat, causing perspiration, flushing, and a rise in heart rate.
The amount of capsaicin present, as well as other factors such as the type of pepper and how it’s prepared, determine the level of spiciness in a cuisine.
Other spices and ingredients, such as black pepper, fresh garlic, leek, ginger, and horseradish, can also add to the feeling of spiciness in cuisine. These compounds provide a comparable sensation of spiciness by stimulating the same pain receptors as capsaicin.
7 Ways to Make Sauce Less Spicy
While many people enjoy a bit of heat in their food, some also can’t take it or may even be allergic. So here are 7 ways to make your sauce less spicy so you can enjoy what you love eating.
1. Choose the right type of pepper to use.
While this applies largely if you haven’t produced a spicy sauce yet, choosing the type of pepper in your dish makes a big difference. Granted, some recipes require certain peppers to achieve that authentic flavor only known to the dish. Substituting it with a milder one will save your taste buds and sweat glands the trouble of having to deal with too much heat in your dish.
Secondly, capsaicin is especially abundant in the pepper’s seeds and ribs. Removing all of the seeds and as much of the white ribbing as possible will control the intensity of your dish, though make sure to fully wash your hands after handling peppers and avoid rubbing your eyes with your jalapeno hands.
Finally, fresh peppers contain more capsaicin than mature peppers and dried peppers, so keep this in mind when picking fresh or dried and young or mature peppers.
2. Increase the Amount of your Base Ingredients.
What should you do if your dish is too hot to handle? Well, you can start by diluting the dish with more major components or base ingredients. This is perhaps the best strategy closest to being universal for calming spicy dishes.
Take a look at your recipe and determine the base ingredients. It’s usually the predominant flavor or quantity in the dish, such as the proteins or vegetables in your dish. Some examples can be:
- Protein: ground meat or chicken, beans,
- Vegetables: corn, potato, sweet potato, or tomatoes
- Starches: pasta, rice or other grains, and vegetables.
a. Double Up the Recipe but without the Spicy Ingredient
The best way to do this would be to increase the amount by doubling the quantity (replicating the sauce) without the heat-inducing ingredient, but make sure they are not spicy ingredients. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a spicier dish.
After, combine it with the spicy batch. The capsaicin in the hot dish is slowly absorbed by the additional ingredients (from the new batch) as it sits, reducing its severity over time. The heat in the dish should be more manageable by then, but you should still taste it before serving.
b. Increase the Ingredients in the Dish Except for the Spicy Ingredient
Doubling your recipe has obvious drawbacks, such as the fact that you may not have all of the ingredients you need. You may also end up with considerably more sauce than you can utilize.
So, the other alternative would be to simply add more of the base ingredient or ingredients to the main sauce or dish. This is also a more cost-effective solution.
3. Increase the Amount of Dairy in the Sauce
Have you seen a hot pepper eating contest, and there’s a glass of milk set on the table? If you chug down that milk, that means you can’t take the heat and are basically giving up. The same rationale can be applied here: Dairy counteracts some of the capsaicin chemical reactions, cooling down spicy foods.
Any full-fat dairy product will suffice in your sauce recipe, provided that dairy is already an ingredient in the recipe or you are using a roux of sorts. Add a dollop of sour cream or a generous amount of grated cheese to your sauce. Some examples of dairy products to use include:
- Whole milk
- Evaporated milk
- Heavy cream
- Sour cream
- Yogurt and Greek Yogurt
- Plant-based milk like coconut milk, cashew milk, almond milk, or soy milk
Certain spicy dishes, such as Asian curries, can benefit from more coconut milk or cream, with them appearing in many recipes throughout this region of the world. For other dishes like stews, it may be sour cream, while heavy cream is most suited for cream-based soups and pizza sauces.
Yogurt works well in a variety of dishes, too, like Mediterranean mezze and sauces. If the dish doesn’t require dairy, you can look for more options below.
4. Add Any Kind of Broth to the Sauce
To dilute the spicy flavoring, you need to outweigh it with other non-spicy ingredients used to make that sauce. Even if your sauce or dish doesn’t call for broth, you can rely on it to taper the heat. Broth as an additional ingredient will complement the recipe while balancing the spiciness. It will also add depth of flavor while increasing the liquid base.
Any broth will do – from chicken, beef, mushroom, seafood, or vegetable broth. Just be mindful of allergies and, most importantly, stick to your proportions. A small amount won’t affect your sauce too much in terms of flavor, but it will thin out the consistency and increase the volume.
If you have about a cup of extremely spicy sauce, then you can start by adding a quarter cup of broth. If it’s still too spicy, then add more broth, but you’ll have to do a lot more tweaking to the dish. With the increased volume and thinner consistency, you may need to add a thickener like starch to achieve your desired texture.
5. Add an Acidic Ingredient
A dash of lemon, lime juice, or vinegar may also help to decrease the spiciness. Acidic foods reduce spiciness and can add brightness and flavor to foods. This is an excellent option for seafood dishes or creamy soups and chowders.
The same goes for adding tomatoes to a tomato-based stew. Because the acid in tomatoes acts to actively neutralize some of the spicy sting, tomato sauce, and tomato chunks perform as a multi-purpose cure.
6. Add a Sweetener
When in doubt, increase or add sweetness to a dish to achieve a gentler and more balanced dish. A teaspoon of sugar or a drizzle of honey may be precisely what your chili dish requires to temper the heat.
Sweetness acts as a diversion from the heat because sweet flavor may overpower spice. However, they can change the texture of the sauce, as some add bulk or increase the volume. Here are some sweeteners you can try adding to your dish:
7. Add Fat like Butter or Olive Oil
Because capsaicin in chili peppers is oil soluble, you can reduce the heat by adding fat. If your sauce can handle it, try using butter or olive oil to dilute the capsaicin and make the burn more acceptable. You can add oil to some meals and then drain it off to remove some of the heat.
Nuts are also high-fat foods that you can use to counteract heat and lessen the severity of it. Nut butters work best, too. Just remember that whether you ground them fine or leave them coarsely crushed, they will change the texture and flavor profile of your sauce.
So there you have it, some essential tips for making your sauce less spicy. With the help of these cool-down techniques, you’ll never have to subject your family to a mouth-scalding dish again. They’ll welcome some heat-neutralizing alternatives, whether you serve it with a lemon wedge or tapering it with milk.