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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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Photo: denphumi

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

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Photo: Mark Stout

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.

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Photo: bozhdb

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.

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Peanut Butter — It Works (Kinda)

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

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