How does one get accustomed to spicy food?
March 13, 2009 7:22 PM   Subscribe

How does one get accustomed to spicy food? My girlfriend (over)reacts to food that has any sort of discernible spicy/hot taste. What are ways to get her to tolerate and eventually enjoy truly hot food?
posted by beukeboom to Food & Drink (52 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why do you think that you can? Why do you think that you should?

What tastes do you strongly dislike? What would you think if your girlfriend wanted to embark on a program of "getting" you to "tolerate and eventually enjoy" that disgusting food?
posted by Flunkie at 7:24 PM on March 13, 2009

Thanks for the snark, but I couldn't care less what she eats. She's expressed to me (the one with the mefi account) her desire to be able to handle spicy food. I suppose in the future I will either ask all questions in the first person or insist that everyone I come in contact with pony up their own 5 bucks.
posted by beukeboom at 7:34 PM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

First of all, you aren't going to get her to do anything if she refuses to try (and don't you dare trick her into anything. You wind up with a pissed of girlfriend and quite possibly an ex-girlfriend).
It's really a matter of finding the right introductory dish. I used to HATE spicy food. I wouldn't even eat mild salsa (I even found a brand that made 'extra' mild).
One day, I went to a chinese restaurant with a new friend. He was telling me all about this delicious soup (suanla chaoshou) and how I would have to try it. I did. And my eyes nearly burst from my head. It hurt, but it was DELICIOUS. Then he introduced me to another spicy but delicious dish which I loved. It opened up a whole new world of culinary sensation to me and I gradually adjusted. Now, 10 years later, I tend to like things extremely hot, and after much experimentation have become something of a connoisseur of all foods hot.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:36 PM on March 13, 2009

^ Geez, what's with the crazy reaction?

As a Southern connoisseur of fine chilis and salsas, I can attest to the tempering effect of repeated experience. Keep her at it! It's well worth the trouble of getting used to spiciness to enjoy great food otherwise inaccessible.

But try to remember that the hottest of the hot will quickly make the uninitiated retch up a meal. :(
posted by Willie0248 at 7:36 PM on March 13, 2009

(whoops was refering to the first answer)
posted by Willie0248 at 7:37 PM on March 13, 2009

beukeboom, no need to get all defensive; the way you phrased the question was a bit harsh. It seemed like you were the one saying she was overreacting.

In any case, for me, I found that it helped to become accustomed to spicier foods by eating spicier versions of foods I already absolutely loved. I wanted them so much I was willing to deal with the heat.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:37 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Just eat it. I used to not be able to tolerate it, and then after wanting to be a part of every wings 'n beer night I started just eating spicy wings and a couple of wing nights later I enjoyed them. Went to Thailand last summer, ate REALLY hot food, now nothing seems spicy anymore and I enjoy it all. If she actually wants to get used to spicy food then she should just eat it, even if she doesn't enjoy it for the first few times.

Maybe have some milk handy to kill the spiciness if it gets untolerable.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:38 PM on March 13, 2009

Uh, beuke, I had the same initial thought. Nothing in the original post suggested that she wanted to explore this issue.

Maybe you jumped the snark here.
posted by yclipse at 7:40 PM on March 13, 2009 [7 favorites]

Build up a spice tolerance, for instance, your girlfriend can try things that are moderately spicy, get used to that, and then start trying the really spicy stuff. Before I started living in China, I didn't eat spicy food, now my favourite cuisine is Sichuan in all their fiery glory.
posted by so much modern time at 7:42 PM on March 13, 2009

Really all you have to do is keep at it. Sometimes a location can help. I always liked spicy food, then I moved to San Antonio. San Antonio spicy is lightyears ahead of Iowa spicy, to say the least.

Like I said though, I'd always liked spicy foods. So I bought some local hot sauce and went to it. At first I could literally only put one little dot of this habanero sauce on a taco. Then it was a few dots. Then it was more. I kept noticing that I had to buy it more often, because of the tiny bottle I guess. Then I used whole line down the taco. Now two!

Now the hot isn't the thing, the actual taste of the pepper is important, which is why I like Serrano pepper sauces better I guess.

Not much fazes me anymore, besides the "manufactured just to be the hottest thing ever" sauces. They don't taste like good peppers though.
posted by sanka at 7:43 PM on March 13, 2009

Wow, posters above are a little harsh. I was raised on pasta-and-cheese and had NO tolerance for spicy foods. It is a burden, really, because it means a wide variety of cuisines and foods--from wing night to Indian to Thai to Ethiopian so many others--are virtually inaccessible.

She should start out small, with not very spicy foods. It may require her preparing her own foods--maybe adding a little cayenne to her dishes. I started out by ordering things that were supposedly not spicy from non-American cuisine restaurants, because even the stuff that supposedly wasn't spicy would light my mouth on fire. I just hardened up and worked through it. You slowly increase your spice tolerance from there. The day I ate kimchee and enjoyed it, tasted the spiciness as a complement and enhancement of the flavor, was one of the most exciting of my life.
posted by schroedinger at 7:45 PM on March 13, 2009

Spicy Mexican food with sour cream on the side. Sour cream takes the heat right out of your mouth.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:45 PM on March 13, 2009

When I moved in with my wife, I promptly took over the cooking at my household (I love to cook, she's meh about it) and began a secret, systematic program to desensitize her palate to capsaicin. Basically I'd cook her food and introduce just a little bit of heat to it, just enough to the point that she'd notice, and I'd hold it there for a while, then increase the dosage. I'd get it just to the point where she'd say "this is as hot as I can tolerate," hold it there until I heard no more complaint, then up it slightly.

She currently still doesn't have my tolerance for heat (and mine isn't remarkable by any metric -- somewhere there's a Thai toddler and an 8-year-old asthmatic Indian girl who could totally pwn me), but she's close enough that I can cook spicy food that I can actually feel lighting up my mouth.

I recommend using Sambal Oelek, available at a lot of US supermarkets in the Asian food section. It adds heat without stomping on other flavors in the dish, and it's not DEAR GOD OWW hot, so you can control the dose easily.

Obviously this assumes that (a) you can/do cook, and (b) you're in this for the long haul. Desensitizing a sensitive adult to hot food takes time and patience. I've been working on my wife sporadically for years.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:46 PM on March 13, 2009

I am personally more sensitive to spices in certain kinds of food. It is all the same capsaicin, so this seems counter intuitive, but I swear that's how it is! For example, I can't handle buffalo wings, but I love spicy Thai and Mexican. My SO who loves buffalo wings thinks my Thai food is pretty spicy. So maybe trying different kinds of spicy food can help her find something more tolerable.

However, I have a friend who cannot handle spicy food AT ALL, even though she tries. Seriously, a tomato basil bisque was too spicy for her once. Another friend who used to sweat when eating ketchup or pizza sauce is slowly building up his tolerance. A big dollop of sour cream or yogurt or a glass of milk can maybe help her take the edge off, or at least be some insurance that she won't die if it is too spicy for her.
posted by sararah at 7:47 PM on March 13, 2009

Well, Flunkie does sort of have a point. If you don't have an affinity for spice I don't think it can be acquired. But if it can, let's pretend it's like mustards and coffees, where most people dislike them out of the gate, but can grow to appreciate.

I really think you have two exclusive questions going on. And it's hard to wrap my head around the way you've phrased them. You make it sound like she needs to build a tolerance then learn to enjoy. I;m going to say it's going to be pretty hard to build that tolerance if she's not already enjoying. I mean what would the motivation be for causing yourself pain if you didn't like the flavor?

I'm a spice head. I eat things that might hospitalize other. It's not uncommon for the cook to come out of the back to see who actually ordered the food that way. A lot of time the cook will be amused I'm a white guy. I've also had waiters of the same ethnicity as the style of the restaurant I'm dining in tell me they couldn't eat what I order. This has happened in Thai, Mexican, India, etc.

When I was 14 I thought the crushed red peppers on a pizza were blazing hot. Now I could eat them by the spoonful straight if I felt like it. The fresh peppers that before made me sweat and turn red don't do this anymore.

I honestly think it's a lot like a drug. It requires a bit more and a bit hotter each time.

So it take quite a bit of dedication to get to the foods that actually test your manhood (not that she wants to do this). I just don't see someone doing this with a food she doesn't enjoy. But if she does like some kind of slightly spicy food, gradually increase the heat. I'm sure eventually she'd get to some pretty hot stuff.

By the way, I've been doing this for 24 years. And the stuff I eat now would have seemed too hot 10 years ago. I expect in another 10 I will look back to what I eat now and consider it wimpy.

Most people think I have just burned out my taste buds.

I love hot food, but I think I pretty much always have. At least from the time I found out there were such things.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:49 PM on March 13, 2009

Ooo, man, I knew you unconsciously sabotaged your question from the start with this phrasing:

What are ways to get her to tolerate and eventually enjoy

By saying "ways to get her to" strongly suggests that she's not necessarily on board with the program, and that you may be trying to force something to happen that she may not have agreed to.

I said a little *phew* to myself when I saw your clarification.
posted by Aquaman at 7:53 PM on March 13, 2009

If you live somewhere you can get big bags of Grippo's barbecue potato chips, start buying those. Have her try them. starting with the really light chips out of a bag (and now you have an excuse to eat the rest of the bag). The damned things are addictive and she'll probably move up to the medium, and then the dark ones eventually. They're noticeably hot (but it does sneak up on you sometimes).
posted by dilettante at 7:56 PM on March 13, 2009

Believe me, I do appreciate the unsolicited relationship advice. My GF is laughing her head off following this thread. That is, if she's not yet my ex.
posted by beukeboom at 7:57 PM on March 13, 2009

Ability to tolerate spicy foods is built up. Start with whatever's one notch below the point where she says it's too hot, and consistently eat foods at that spice level (but not daily, say 3 times a week). She will gradually get accustomed to it, at which point you crank it up a notch or two and wait for acclimatization. Rinse and repeat.

Also, make sure you incorporate a variety of different sources of heat. For example horseradish/wasabi is a very different type of hot than jalapenos. I find soup that's really spicy is easier to tolerate than solid food like pasta sauce that's really spicy, but I don't know if everyone is like that.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:02 PM on March 13, 2009

She has (uh, I mean, I have) another question:

In the process of increasing my tolerance to spice, am I at risk of desensitizing the rest of my palate?
posted by beukeboom at 8:03 PM on March 13, 2009

In the process of increasing my tolerance to spice, am I at risk of desensitizing the rest of my palate?

From what I understand, no -- unless you try something that's waaaaay too hot.
posted by Simon Barclay at 8:08 PM on March 13, 2009

Try something with a small amount of cilantro added to the dish. Or this chocolate!
posted by tradeer33 at 8:11 PM on March 13, 2009

One important but surprisingly (to me) unknown fact is that water will not help clear the heat out of your mouth. Creamy/yogurty drinks and side dishes, like milk/sour cream/raita/lassi are developed alongside spicy cuisines specifically for this. It's a lot easier to eat some too-spicy-for-you food if you can actually rinse out and breathe between mouthfuls.

And hint: don't even think about juice. That citric acid, on top of the chili, is going to make you cry.
posted by jacalata at 8:14 PM on March 13, 2009

seems like kind of a waste of a webpage, but some of the tips were interesting.
Appears the consensus is to slowly expose yourself to spicy food, but I got over my aversion to spicy food by going hot turkey. As in, I moved to India, and only ate spicy food all the time. The first two weeks were hell, but after that I was fine. YMMV.
posted by karyotypical at 8:16 PM on March 13, 2009

...It is all the same capsaicin...

Only it isn't. The heat from black pepper is piperine, not capsaicin. Horseradish and hot mustard are hot because of Allyl isothionate.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:35 PM on March 13, 2009

In the process of increasing my tolerance to spice, am I at risk of desensitizing the rest of my palate?

No, not if you take it slow. There is a point at which all you can taste is heat, and that's when you've gone too far, too fast. But if you take your time, you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised at how heat can interact with other flavors to give the food depth and excitement.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:35 PM on March 13, 2009

A) Wasabi (aka horseradish in the US). Will make her head explode but only for like 30 seconds, no 15 minutes of going "oh god this is nasty", just OMG for a few seconds, it will make your nose run and your eyes weep, but it goes away really quick.
B) Cock Sauce. Garlic and hot and lasts a bit longer.
C) Tortellini and tobasco and parmesan cheese (no sauce). Different flavor of hot.
D) Cholula on pizza (or red peppers for that matter).

Once she gets that far, she'll be hooked.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:38 PM on March 13, 2009

One important but surprisingly (to me) unknown fact is that water will not help clear the heat out of your mouth.

Right. Capsaicin is fat soluble, so what you want is something with fat in it, like whole milk or sour cream or guacamole. (The latter can be risky, though, because some people spice up their guacamole, making it like tossing gasoline on a fire.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:40 PM on March 13, 2009

Many kids in Mexico start eating spicy candy and fruits or vegetables with chili powder.

You can also add a bit of chili powder or salsa to food you already like, like potato chips or fruit (try sweet/sour acid fruits like apples, sliced oranges or mango). Use salsa for dry food, powder for moist food.
posted by clearlydemon at 8:41 PM on March 13, 2009

It doesn't desensitise your palate. In fact, it can exquisitely tune your palate, so that you can taste subtleties you were only vaguely aware of before.

Just don't jump right in with the spiciest chilis, which really can burn your mouth like a chemical burn (well, it is a chemical burn, actually), but it doesn't sound like you're going to do that.

A close friend began our friendship incapable of eating spicy food. He couldn't handle even a little piquancy in his food. I've always loved spicy food, so I'd occasionally invite him to try some of the less scorchy spicy things I liked.

At first, he could only take a little at a time, but we'd make sure he had bread or a dairy product nearby. As jacalata points out, those are two of the only things guaranteed to sop the oils and ease any irritation. Beer can be helpful, too - creamier, the better.

Before long, he found he craved spicy food and now takes a higher spice level than I'm currently capable of enjoying. He thought he'd always be an enemy of spicy food. Big change.

When experimenting with peppers, be aware that the seed often contains the bulk of the heat (jalapenos, for example). Don't chew the seeds. Also: don't eat the tiny, dry/crinkly red or black peppers often found in Asian food - these are difficult even for practiced pepper eaters.

You might consider things like Chili Rellenos (cheese and other things baked into a poblano), pepperoncinis with your salad (take tiny nibbles of the outside skin, or use the juice in a cream dressing), and other mild chilis in dishes with built in heat-deflection.

I hope you find some heat to your liking, and good on you for considering going outside your comfort zone!
posted by batmonkey at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2009

Melted cheese is another thing that will take the heat out of your mouth. I've been experimenting recently with spicing up the ground beef I use in quesadillas, and even when the meat itself has been very hot (by my admittedly poor standards) I've found that the quesadillas haven't affected me much. I am pretty sure it's because of the cheese I mix with the beef when I make them.

I've never found Chili Rellenos to be very painful. Partly that's because restaurants tend to use mild chilis for that, but I think the cheese is the big reason.

What I like about this is that I can taste the underlying flavor being brought to the game by the spiciness without being in pain.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:49 PM on March 13, 2009

One technique that may help your girlfriend ease into spicy foods is eating a bite of the spicy food, waiting about five minutes, then commence eating. It sounds silly but it seems to work with me.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:00 PM on March 13, 2009

sorry to piggyback, but i've always kind of wondered about acclimating myself to spicy foods, as well. what happens if spicy foods give me a really bad stomach ache, even if i can tolerate the heat taste-wise? am i just kind of screwed in that case?
posted by timory at 9:48 PM on March 13, 2009

timory: you could be sensitive to them or have other stomach issues. Does anything else make your tummy ache like that, or only spicy foods?

If it's not a sensitivity or something a doc needs to check out, have you tried eating or drinking something that can protect your stomach from the spice beforehand, like a glass of milk or a plain tortilla?

That'd be the first thing I suggest after affirming you're not going to harm yourself. If that doesn't work and you check out fine with a doc, you can also take some Milk of Magnesia ahead of eating to line your stomach. It makes me nervous to offer that, though, because sensitive stomachs are often that way for a reason.
posted by batmonkey at 9:55 PM on March 13, 2009

A few things:

Eat slow!
Learn to love both the burn and the cool down. Part of why I love spicy food is that sometimes is that awesome flare that goes up through the scalp, then fades. When you eat slow and let your palette burn and cool, you're gently building up tolerance, slowly acclimating. If you've got good stuff, there's more to taste than heat, but the heat's great for slowing you down and almost forcing you to savor the other flavors and how the spice plays with them. Plus, you eat less when you eat slow, which is never a bad thing.

Corn bread!
It's cheap and good and beats back spice! Assuming you don't bake in jalapenos, of course. A lot of good spice cutters have already been mentioned - have bread/starch and dairy on hand, basically.

Deep end of the pool! Building up your tolerance on increasingly riskier dishes over an extended period seems like the smart play, but I gotta say, I didn't really learn to love spicy food until my Trial by Chili! We were eating before a concert at a buddy's place and by the time I got round to the mild pot with my bowl, that pot was empty. So I had to go with our host's personal stash of weapons-grade chili. But I was in luck, as he happened to be a chili artisan, and the blazing heat in my bowl was surrounded by a whole lot of delicious. There was corn bread and sour cream. I puffed and sweated and went red in the face but I walked away from that table with a love for spicy food that'll last the rest of my life. Or til some doctor tells me to quit, maybe.

So if you're brave, find something both blazing hot and irresistibly delicious. Be really hungry when it's time to eat. Have a couple beers while you're cooking up your cornbread or whatever. Sit down to eat together and, when that spice bites you, you bite that motherfucker right back. Don't get up til you're finished - the cornbread'll get you through it.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:01 PM on March 13, 2009

Careful, she may be a super taster.
posted by ae4rv at 10:14 PM on March 13, 2009

Practice Practice Practice. Milk and Soymilk help sooth if you go too far. At the bar try hammerhead wings which are honeygarlic and hot sauce mixed together. You can order honey garlic and then dip it in the hot sauce to taste. (this is how I trained a friend of mine)
posted by captaincrouton at 10:21 PM on March 13, 2009

(I also breathed a sigh of relief at the clarification.) Anyway, the molecular mechanism for building up tolerance to capsaicin is, I believe, the same one seen in drugs of abuse: receptor downregulation. I can't find a reference now, but I read somewhere that the capsaicin receptor gets downregulated after prolonged exposure, requiring the person to eat more and more chili to get the same "buzz".

So, your girlfriend needs to start out with small doses and slowly increase over time. Eventually, like a hardened crack addict or cjorgensen (nothing personal, man), she will consume mindblowing amounts of chili pepper to get her fix. OK, kidding about that, but just start small like everyone else has said.

Fun facts for food geeks: the capsaicin receptor, TRPV1, is an ion channel, meaning that when it is activated by binding capsaicin, it allows ions to pass through the cell membrane, which triggers various responses in the cell (one physiological response is the sensation of heat on the tongue). It is also a molecular thermometer, being activated by temperatures above 43° C, even in the absence of capsaicin.

Taken together, these explain a couple of things about spicy foods: it takes a few moments for the burning sensation to start, and spicy things taste hotter when they're hot (temperature-wise). The time delay is because there are 2 steps involved: first capsaicin has to bind TRPV1 on cells of the tongue, then ions have to flow in (? out?) until they reach a level that triggers the "heat" sensation. Unlike a simple system where the flavor molecule binds a receptor and triggers a sensation directly, capsaicin takes a little longer to make itself known.
posted by Quietgal at 10:49 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

It might be more than just a taste thing...

I love spicy food but I don't eat it anymore. I can deal with the burning going in but I have no desire whatsoever to deal with burning when it comes out.

What can I say? It's sensitive.
posted by simplethings at 11:09 PM on March 13, 2009

which really can burn your mouth like a chemical burn (well, it is a chemical burn, actually),

Well, no, not really, actually.

The affected areas will get red and inflamed, as the body reacts to a sensation of heat. But the heat and pain is in sensation only as the capsaicin molecules interact with the receptors. The pepper does not literally burn you in any way. There is no oxidation, denaturation, nor any other damage done to the cells of your tongue and mouth (or eyeball, for that matter).

But, you can cause your tongue and mouth to become swollen and tender for hours (or a couple days) if you go out and eat habanero sauce tomorrow. But, you won't burn your tastebuds off.

And, in my experience, there is no loss of palate from eating spicy foods, except while you're eating the spicy foods. So, a really spicy gumbo eaten with a light and subtle quiche... ehh, not gonna taste the quiche so much. But, if you ate the quiche the day after the gumbo, all would be as it should.
posted by Netzapper at 11:41 PM on March 13, 2009

Thanks for the clarification, Netzapper - an experience with concentrated habanero on my arm and the subsequent discussion with friends gave me that wrong idea. Yay, info!
posted by batmonkey at 12:10 AM on March 14, 2009


There's a good chance she simply isn't made to eat that stuff. If so, she can take solace in the knowledge that she experiences taste sensations you can't even imagine.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:44 AM on March 14, 2009

My experience was that mixing chilli with parsley greatly improbed my tolerance to hot flavour. I picked this up in Tunisia, and admittedly I was eating lots of chilli mixed with lots of parsely, but I reckon parsley would moderate the effects of chilli in smaller quantities too.
posted by singingfish at 1:56 AM on March 14, 2009

Find a good curry place. Let her find a good curry that she likes. Most decent Indian restaurants will have a sliding scale of hotness, from "hmm, a little peppery" to "i now understand the universe". Go there every week or so, and each time, ask them to amp up the fire slightly. Perhaps the familiarity with the dish itself will permit her to grow accustomed to the spiciness. I use curry as the most obvious example, but there are no doubt plenty of other dishes from plenty of other places that will have a spice scale.

Tabasco sauce is a pretty mild oomph enhancer and can be sprinkled on just about everything. Encourage her to add a little dash to her meals once in a while.

Hot food is a lot like alcohol: you become conditioned to it. I can eat things that make other people cry, and likewise other people can eat stuff that I wouldn't even enjoy standing next to. Merely apply those timeless words of wisdom from Pride & Prejudice: "Practise, Miss Bennett, practise. You can't get enough of it."

(Also, regardless of what level of pain your mouth can handle, it's always the same story the next day.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:04 AM on March 14, 2009

To repeat:
In the process of increasing my tolerance to spice, am I at risk of desensitizing the rest of my palate?

Oh god no. You're expanding your palette, not compressing or compromising it. I am very familiar with both Mexican and Japanese cooking and both of them have both intense and the mildest flavors imaginable. They wouldn't have the latter if the former wiped them out.

Take everyone else's advice and slowly ramp it up. It may never reach the levels where one can slurp a habanero shake, but it will be more sensitive to more diverse flavors.
posted by Ookseer at 2:06 AM on March 14, 2009

I haven't seen anybody mention this yet so read this at least.
Sugar. Just regular white cane sugar will put out the fire within seconds on most regular stuff. Just swish one of those sugar packets around and directly on the area you feel on your tongue.

Personal anecdote
I never really got into spicy foods until I started putting red pepper flakes on my pizza. At first I would only put a little bit on. But I gradually increased the amount I would put on until now they don't bother me at all.
posted by Redmond Cooper at 2:30 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Spicy things taste hotter when they're hot (temperature-wise).


A meal I cook for dinner that I'm physically unable to eat because I've overspiced it can be perfectly edible the next day as a cold sandwich filling. The combination of the bread and the lower temperature bring the spiciness down to a manageable level.

So even if she can't share your meal right now, she may be able to cope with the leftovers as part of tomorrow's packed lunch.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:25 AM on March 14, 2009

Seconding turgid dahlia; start Indian. A glass of lassi on the side is the best fire extinguisher.
posted by scruss at 5:12 AM on March 14, 2009

I just wanted to add that, by "cock sauce," zengargoyle presumably means Sriracha. Maybe that's widely known among folks who aren't spicy-food enthusiasts, but thought I'd clarify (and recommend the stuff!).
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:29 AM on March 14, 2009

Seconding turgid dahlia; start Indian. A glass of lassi on the side is the best fire extinguisher. -Scruss

Oh, this reminded me; when you eat Mexican food, have a big chilled glass of horchata on the side. Agua de horchata is a cinnamon-laced rice milk that doesn't have any magical capsaicin-cooling properties but is incredibly refreshing. The sweet milkiness balances out spicy Mexican food perfectly.

I recommend you get a glass in a restaurant or a jug at the local Latino mercado instead of making it yourself, at least until you learn to love it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:09 AM on March 14, 2009

Even the spice-tolerant among us encounter dishes that are overwhelming.

In my experience, a few factors affect the spice-experience of a particular dish:
a. the types/concentration of peppers
b. how long the peppers were cooked (raw peppers are generally much spicier)
c. the temperature of the dish (cooler is less intense)
d. ratio of spice-bearing to non-spice-bearing parts
e. time from bite to swallow (bigger bits take longer to chew)

The last three are under the diner's control at the table. If a dish is too spicy, you can always wait for it to cool or take smaller bites. But my favorite method of adjusting the dish to my taste or tolerance is to dilute it with room-temperature white rice, bread, or yogurt.
posted by zennie at 11:42 AM on March 14, 2009

I don't like spicy things either though I am better than I used to be. I now like hot and sour soup (well half h/s half egg drop) and have found that spicy food can be toned down by drizzling vinegar on it.
posted by meeshell at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2009

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