Mouth-on-Fire Myths: What Really Cools Your Palate

Does milk actually take away the burn? What about alcohol? We sort fact from fiction. 

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Milk — It Works!

Casein — the protein in milk — helps break the bonds capsaicin (the chemical compound that gives chiles their heat) forms on nerve receptors (what causes the uncomfortable burning sensation). It surrounds and washes away the capsaicin molecules similar to how soap washes away grease. Because all dairy contains casein, pretty much any liquid form will work, including yogurt and ice cream — and whole works better than fat free.

By Nicole Cherie Jones

Ice-Cold Water — Doesn’t Work

Noooooo. A glass of cold water is tempting, but oil-based capsaicin won't dissolve in water. If anything, it spreads the capsaicin around your mouth so the burning feels even worse. Put the glass down — now.

A Sugar Cube or Honey — It Works!

If you’ve read much about chile peppers, you’ve probably heard of the Scoville Scale. The Scoville score of a sauce or pepper is based on how much sugar it takes to neutralize its heat.

Complex carbon molecules found in most sugars bond well with capsaicin. Sucking on a sugar cube is good because it keeps the sugar in your mouth longer, which means the sugar can absorb and wipe away more of the burning.

Peanut Butter — It Works (Kinda)

Capsaicin is oil soluble, so fatty substances like peanut butter may help dissolve some of the spicy substance.

Oil — It Works!

As we just mentioned, capsaicin is oil soluble. This means oil pulling (swishing the oil around in your mouth) with some extra virgin olive oil can help wash away the fiery feeling quick.

Alcohol — Doesn’t Work (Well)

Yes, capsaicin dissolves in alcohol, but a cold beer is about 5 percent alcohol and mostly water, so it won’t wash away much of the heat, and it might even spread it around. Hard liquor works better, but you might have to down five shots of tequila to dissolve half an ounce of capsaicin (not recommended!). At that point your body will probably be so numb you won't be able to feel anything.

Acidic Foods (Like Vinegar or Lemon Juice) — It Works (Kinda)

Anything tomato based, cold lemonade, vinegar or simply a wedge of citrus can help neutralize some of the activity of the alkaline capsaicinoid. But, again, it might take a lot to get rid of all the burn.

Bread or Rice — It Works!

There's no fancy chemical reason here. Basically, carbs work by acting as a mop to soak up the oily capsaicin in your mouth, while the sugar can help neutralize some of it.

Hot Tea — Doesn’t Work

As we already mentioned, water is a bad idea. Hot water is an even worse idea because heat (as in the temperature kind) can make the burning sensation feel more intense.

Milk Chocolate — It Works (Kinda)

Filled with fat and some casein, milk chocolate can help provide some relief. It’s not as good as dairy or oil, but it's better than nothing!

Hot Peppers — It Works!

OK, so hot peppers won’t help cool down your mouth right away, but studies confirm that if you regularly eat spicy food, your taste buds become desensitized to the heat so it doesn’t burn as much.

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