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There are many chilis that have amazing flavors but are so hot that it is hard for most of us to appreciate them. Beyond the standard suggestion to discard the seeds and cut away the ribs, are there any other methods that can lower the capsaicin level while retaining the other flavors?

This was asked on Dave Arnold's Cooking Issues podcast, and I'm not sure they landed on a solid answer.

EDIT: I'm looking for something that might cut the perceived heat by like 90% or even 100%, not just make it slightly milder. Something that completely neutralizes the capsaicin, not simply buffers it on your palate. (Starting a bounty).

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Great question! Favorited so I can (hopefully) start using more of the chilis I like in meals I make for my wife :) –  stephennmcdonald Sep 2 '10 at 20:35
    
Is this for the purpose of eating the pepper itself, or using it in a dish? How the pepper is cooked affects so much about how hot it ends up being. –  Aaronut Sep 2 '10 at 20:47
    
@aaronut - I don't want to eat the pepper by itself, but I may use it in a dish either raw or cooked. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 2 '10 at 21:04
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I've got a hunch that sugar and fat would be key to this, but I have to experiment a little. Most of my time is normally spent trying to bring out the heat. –  Aaronut Sep 2 '10 at 21:11
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By the way, just to defend my honor in asking this - I'm not personally shy of chile heat. I typically order 4 stars at Thai restaurants, e.g. But there are some more extreme peppers (habanero, scotch bonnet, ghost chili) that are just so hot that it is difficult for me to get the rest of their flavor in sufficient quantity. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 7 '10 at 6:10
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16 Answers

up vote 37 down vote accepted
+50

In Indian cooking we usually add Ghee (Clarified butter) to reduce the heat of a chili pepper. Most Indian dishes, we would add a good heaping spoon of ghee before feeding little ones. This helps temper the heat but keeps the flavors alive so that the children get used to them and can gradually learn to eat hotter foods.

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I forgot to add that any form of fat (cream, half&half, full-fat milk, butter or even oil) should do the same thing because capsacin is fat soluble. That's why the most effective to cool off after eating hot foods is drinking milk rather than water or other beverages. –  Ambuja Sep 2 '10 at 21:50
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Interesting answer! I know about eating fat after your tongue is already burning to reduce the pain, but I would have thought adding fat to the dish itself would almost make things worse. I would have guessed it would dissolve the capsaicin and make it more widely spread throughout the dish. I'll have to give this a try. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 2 '10 at 23:34
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@Michael - but by spreading it out wouldn't it reduce the chance that you'd get a highly concentrated spicy bite? That, I think, would help quite a bit. –  justkt Sep 7 '10 at 12:55
    
I think yogurt is also common to extinguish a bit the fire, but none of the suggested will reduce the heat with 90% or 100% like the OP asked... –  ufotds Mar 8 '11 at 21:02
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A bleach solution will neutralize the capsaicin (or at least, make it water-soluble). Making the pepper edible after that may be another issue, though . . . (Disclaimer: don't actually try this)

A safer way to draw oil out of the peppers may be to soak them in alcohol first. Unfortunately, anything that will extract capsaicin will also extract the other flavorful (but non-hot) oils from the pepper. You may end up with a less spicy pepper, but it may also be less tasty.

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Adding cream or milk to the dish softens the hotness. Even drinking a glass of milk during the meal helps.

Drinking Alcohol with the meal has the opposite effect btw.

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capsacin is soluble in alcohol, so it can help. –  Rowland Shaw Sep 4 '10 at 15:19
    
Always keep a glass of chocolate milk handy. It kills the heat right away. –  Chris Cudmore Sep 8 '10 at 15:32
    
so, drinking spiked egg nog should be the ultimate spiceburnkill? –  zanlok Dec 3 '10 at 18:33
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I have found that roasting peppers and removing their skins can do a great deal to reduce the heat. I have a garden full of jalapeños and I roast many of them before putting them in salsas or eating them plane. The roasting does change the flavor, but I find that it mellows it out, while not eliminating it. It is your choice to keep the seeds or not, they maintain their heat for the most part, the roasting primarily affects the flesh. I roast till the skin is turning brown/dark brown in a couple of spots, set the peppers aside and when the are cool to the touch remove the skin and what ever else you choose.

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Any cooking seems to tone the heat down. I'll often saute or sweat peppers, and it sweetens the flavors just like it would for an onion. –  Jon Galloway Sep 7 '10 at 19:46
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One sure way to reduce the heat is by adding some coconut milk powder. This thickens the dish a bit.

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interesting approach –  mfg Sep 8 '10 at 13:07
    
Works quite well - in addition to removing the seeds, this is the method I use to make my dishes palatable to er... "Less tolerant others". –  Arafangion Oct 4 '10 at 22:06
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Disclaimer: pure speculation...

This won't reduce by the 90%+, but maybe it will help a little: I've read how the pickers of peppers have to use gloves to prevent getting burned. Perhaps a higher concentration of capsacin is in the skin, and cleaning them by rubbing with something (bleached water, ghee, alcohol, oil-soaked paper towels, all of the above???) might reduce the strength. Or, for that matter, peeling them. This is all a guess of course.

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This is a great question, but unfortunately, it is not possible.

The reason is the Capsaicin compounds. Let me explain.

Capsaicin compounds are a very interesting substance that does not actually damage the tissues, instead it binds to your sensory neurons and tricks them into sending the message that the tissue is burned and under abrasive damage. It is a perfect trick of the mind (and nervous system) you may say. All this time NO DAMAGE TAKES PLACE .

Any redness, swelling, etc is just a auto-response of the body.

It is funny to know that birds do not have this type of receptors and tat may consume the hottest chillies without having any unpleasant sensation.

At the same time, this very same compounds are very flavorful and perceived as such by the appropriate receptors.

There is not a district "flavor" component to the chillies, it is the Capsaicin compounds and they "burn".

Yes , was they are soluble in fats, mixing them with butter as Ambuja suggested or with high fat yogurt attenuates the burning sensation as it does no longer come in small concentrated portions.

Alternatively, start to teach your body and brain that it is nothing to fear by slowly building tolerance to it. I am sure that Ambuja knows a lot about this :D

No easy way out on this one , sorry :P

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@Bogdan Belcea - So I understand that it is the capsaicins, and that they aren't actually burning or hurting anything. But I don't understand how you get to the conclusion that there is no possible compound in nature that might, say, bind to them and prevent them from getting to your sensory neurons, or in some other way differentially disable them. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Sep 7 '10 at 17:35
    
I am not a chemist, but I seriously doubt not that there is an agent that may inhibit there action on the neurons, but one that may do this AND at the same time not alter them ... so that they are still the same ... and have the same flavour. Do not forget that the tasting is in fact just a way to identify classes of chemicals. You may do something to become for a time insensitive ... but without the sensation of warmth of pressure that gets overstimulated by the Capsaicin I do not think that any meal will be still enjoyable –  Bogdan Belcea Sep 7 '10 at 22:03
    
Additionally, the Capsaicin and the altering agent has be altered and still be fit for human consumption. –  Bogdan Belcea Sep 7 '10 at 22:08
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@mfg: I have eaten habaneros whole before on many occasions. I have not experienced either of those symptoms. –  hobodave Sep 8 '10 at 20:52
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In what universe is there not a flavour in peppers? Sorry, but that alone calls much of this answer into serious question. The way capsaicin acts is correct, but I find your conclusions questionable at best. –  daniel Oct 12 '10 at 7:23
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Although this may be a different solution to the question, you might just try some of the more flavorful mild peppers in combination with the hotter choices in the recipes you prepare. A sweet paprika pepper is wonderfully flavorful. A minimal amount of habanero in a recipe would still impart its flavor. Roasting the peppers may also intensify the flavor you want to emphasize.

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This site talks about this a bit.

It says that ~60% of the capsaicin heat is in the pith and ~40% is in the seeds and other parts of the flesh. It suggests removing and discarding the pith and seeds to reduce the heat. It also suggests soaking the peppers in vinegar for a day. I guess depending on what you're cooking this may or may not work.

Also, since the capsaicin "is an alkaloid oil, it is soluble in acid, fat or alcohol", perhaps you can try to soak it in one of these things and that will reduce the heat.

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One way to use peppers without bearing the brunt of the burn is to saute some in oil, discard the pepper and utilize the oil. Doing this, as with paprika, will alter and roast the flavor, changing it somewhat. Whether that is good or bad is for you to decide (although you can of course use a lower heat to roast it less). However, if you discard the pepper and keep the oil you will keep some of the flavor but it will be mostly just the heat.

A better way is to counterbalance the heat with complements and supplements. It will buffer, but also allow you to make the most use of capsaicin neutralizing agents while preserving flavor.

Incorporating nice fatty elements in the dish is a good way of introducing a complementary element that reduces the heat and allows the mouth to have ammo to dissolve the oils. It could be milk, butter, or bacon but fats will absorb the heat.

A supplementary element would be one that augments the flavor into a wheel so the heat isn't completely out of balance and the flavor of the pepper comes through more. For instance, if you look at good habanero hot sauces, they typically have citrus fruit concentrates in them. Whether you use orange, mango, lemon these elements assist in bringing out the fruity quality of the habanero. Supplements come in pairs though, so you add a nice bright flavor (i.e. orange concentrate) and a sweet (i.e. brown sugar).

Instead of washing out the heat, and the flavor/character of the pepper too, I have found in making food that it is ideal to balance it out instead with complements and supplements.

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actually i forgot an additional approach, ZEST IT! –  mfg Sep 8 '10 at 13:29
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The taste (that isn't heat) is primarily in the skin; most of the heat is in the pith and seeds. Remove the inside and you have the taste without the heat.

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This might be complete nonsense, and would depend entirely on the vaporization temperature of capsaicin, but have you considered bunging some peppers in a Rotovap to see what happens?

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Interesting idea... I don't have access to one or I would try it. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Oct 12 '10 at 15:15
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I just saw a tool on the blog Peppers and More called the Pepper Shark. It is a tool specifically for use in trimming the heat (ie cutting out the seeds etc) of peppers and keeping the flavorful parts.

alt text

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Huh, certainly unusual! It seems like it is really only necessary if you want to keep the pepper intact - you can cut it open, that is pretty trivial to do with a paring knife. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Oct 27 '10 at 20:54
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Yeah crazy looking like some anime sword, and I assume you're going to be chopping it up anyway; but I thought knowing a tool for this purpose was out there warranted a minor update. –  mfg Oct 27 '10 at 20:59
    
Some recipes use the seeded whole pepper, like chiles rellenos (stuffed peppers). –  Jared Updike Oct 27 '10 at 21:23
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A technique that I use is to cut the chillies in half, and de seed them, then soak in water for a while before cooking. This tends to leave a lot of the flavor but reduce the heat.

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I cooked a sauce with chilli to eat with chicken. It was very hot and then I put spinach in a frozen block in. When we ate it, the heat was dramatically reduced, so perhaps the folate or nitrate in spinach effects the heat of the chilli.

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Welcome to the site, user17985. –  BaffledCook Apr 22 '13 at 19:11
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I would imagine that if you add enough sugar, it will cause the oils of the hot pepper to break down a little. Sugar, or C12H22O11, will react with the oils and change them chemically, although the amount of this change varies.

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I know sugar can reduce our perception of heat - but does it really react with capsaicin? (Do you have a reference?) –  Jefromi Apr 26 '13 at 23:07
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