What is the reason water doesn’t alleviate the spiciness of food? Can milk or beer provide relief?

What is the reason water doesn't alleviate the spiciness of food? Can milk or beer provide relief?

The sensation of spiciness in foods is caused by a group of compounds called capsaicinoids, with capsaicin being the main culprit. Capsaicin is found in various spicy foods like chillies, jalapeños, cayenne pepper, and is even used in pepper spray.

Contrary to popular belief, capsaicin doesn’t physically heat up your mouth. The burning sensation occurs because receptors in the mouth react to capsaicin and send a signal to the brain that something hot is present.

When we eat spicy foods, we often experience a “hot” sensation and even start sweating. To alleviate this heat, it’s necessary to remove the capsaicin from the mouth.

However, drinking water doesn’t effectively eliminate the spicy feeling. This is because capsaicin is a hydrophobic molecule, meaning it doesn’t mix easily with water. Hydrophobic substances like capsaicin do not dissolve in hydrophilic substances like water.

Even iced water is not very effective, as capsaicin is even less soluble in water at lower temperatures. While cold water may provide temporary relief while in the mouth, swallowing it will bring back the spiciness.

Instead of water, consuming something hydrophobic is a better choice. According to the chemistry principle “like dissolves like,” hydrophobic substances dissolve in other hydrophobic substances.

One suitable option is consuming milk. Milk contains hydrophobic fats that can easily dissolve capsaicin, washing it away. Additionally, milk contains a protein called casein, which helps oils and water mix. Casein also has an affinity for capsaicin, wrapping it up and carrying it away from the receptors, relieving the burning sensation.

If milk isn’t preferred, raita, a dish commonly served with Indian curries and made from yoghurt, can also be effective. Yoghurt is rich in fats and contains casein, providing similar benefits as milk.

Ice cream is another option, as it contains casein and plenty of hydrophobic substances.

Some studies suggest that drinks with high sugar content can also alleviate spiciness.

While it may seem like a good idea, reaching for an ice-cold beer is not very effective. Although capsaicin is soluble in alcohol, most beers contain a low alcohol content and a high water content. The small amount of alcohol in beer may provide slight relief, but not to a significant degree.

In conclusion, consuming something hydrophobic like milk, raita, or ice cream, or drinks with high sugar content, is more effective in relieving the spiciness caused by capsaicin.