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Nice creamy condiments are known to reduce the effect of spicy foods, such as sour cream on Tex-Mex food. I have a pretty low tolerance for spiciness, so I often need to put a glop or two of sour cream on what I'm eating. Would switching to low-fat sour cream (to reducing fats) still have the same spice-reducing effect?

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It's the fat that actually cuts the spiciness - see my answer on making a sauce less spicy/hot. When you're dealing with the type of spiciness that's reduced by cream (generally capsaicin), it's pretty safe to assume that it's fat-soluble, and the same principles apply when you're using the "reducer" as a condiment vs. including it in the recipe.

There's certainly a possibility that certain non-fat/low-fat substitutes will work, but it's going to be luck of the draw; it depends on how they're made. Alcohol in general is almost as good as fat at cutting spice (sometimes better), but that's not going to be a common ingredient in these products. Generally they'll have a bunch of emulsifiers and other E-numbers to maintain their consistency, not many of which (possibly none) have any documented relationship with capsaicin or its like.

Low fat (as opposed to non-fat) might be fine because it still contains some fat. "Light" sour cream is typically still 5-10% fat and would probably still work pretty well, if not quite as well as full-fat. But don't expect any miracles from non-fat products.

  • Actually, low fat products work perfectly, not just "pretty well". There is nothing in fat which "cuts" the spiciness, it simply dilutes the capsaicin. All you need is something which can dissolve the capsaicin. 1% yogurt works perfectly fine for the purpose - the capsaicin concentration in a single bubblet of yogurt-fat might be higher than if you used creme fraiche, but because it is dispersed in a very large volume of water, it ends up working as well as an equivalent volume of high-fat product. (I have experienced this in practice too, it's not just theory). I agree on the non-fat part. – rumtscho Jul 12 '14 at 11:45
  • @rumtscho: I don't think it's quite that simple; in many/most cases the food you're eating already has oils or other fats, and the concentration of capsaicin might be quite high, certainly too high for a tiny bubble of 1% yogurt or milk to take it away. I've eaten tacos with salsa hot enough that even the usual dollop of sour cream didn't entirely eliminate the piquance - which of course was the point. If your food is "slightly spicy" then yes, a small amount of low-fat whatever is probably fine. – Aaronut Jul 12 '14 at 15:39
  • by "bubble" I meant each individual droplet in the emulsion. Of course if you add too little stuff, you don't get enough dilution. But my point was that, once your stuff mixes with fat well enough, it doesn't matter what percentage of fat it has itself. And low-fat yogurt mixes well enough. My personal experience is that low-fat yogurt and high-fat sour cream have the same heat-mildering power per gram. If a spoon of lfy is not sufficient, then a spoon of sour cream won't be sufficient either. – rumtscho Jul 12 '14 at 17:20
  • @rumtscho: These terms you're using don't have very precise meanings. In some places, "low-fat yogurt" could have nearly the same %mf as sour cream, particularly if you're buying "light sour cream". Of course the percentage isn't the sole issue - it's the combination of percentage and quantity. Getting equal results with the same quantities of products with vastly different %mf does not mirror my own experience; that would only happen if either (a) it's not very spicy to begin with or (b) you're using far more than the minimum necessary to cut the spice. – Aaronut Jul 13 '14 at 5:10
  • (b) is a possible explanation in my case, I am usually generous with dairy. – rumtscho Jul 13 '14 at 12:50

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