Have you ever tried a hot, spicy plate of Mexican food? Did your mouth catch on fire? That can be a very unpleasant experience. But don’t worry! Here are some quick tips to put out a chili pepper fire.
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Everyone knows Mexicans like to eat hot, spicy food, and that’s not a myth at all!
Here in Mexico, I have friends and relatives who would rather starve than sit down to dinner without a nice, decent bowl of fiery salsa. And even children love the taste of spicy chili lollipops. As we say in Mexico- if it has no heat, it’s no good to eat!
My grandparents were like that. They were both born and raised in the Mexican province of Hidalgo, and people love to eat fire over there!
I remember my grandmother would make her own homemade flaming salsa. First, she would cook or roast the chiles, tomatoes or tomatillos. Then, she would ground them all up in a molcajete, along with herbs and spices.
It was a very good salsa, but it really did make your mouth go up in flames! And that was exactly how my grandparents liked it.
Despite my grandparents’ taste for fire, I turned out to be a real and total wuss when it comes to chili heat.
I can bear jalapeno, poblano, and chipotle chilies just fine, but anything hotter than that makes me blow steam out of my ears. As you can imagine, I’ve had quite a few experiences trying to put out the fire in my mouth, and none of them were pleasant.
Fortunately, I learned several tricks to extinguish chili fire quickly and effectively. Mostly, I have my grandparents’ advice to thank for that!
The Science of Chili Pepper Heat
In order to put out a fire, you have to understand what causes it. Chili peppers all contain a substance called capsaicin, which is responsible for the heat.
When you eat a chili pepper, the capsaicin in it overstimulates your taste buds so that it feels as though your mouth is going up in flames.
Different kinds of chili peppers contain different levels of capsaicin in them, and that means some of them are hotter than others. And there are others that are hotter than hell, of course.
There’s even a scale that scientifically measures the degree of heat- the Scoville scale. You can use it to know how hot a chili pepper is.
Jalapenos, chipotles, and poblanos rank pretty low, so that’s why they are so popular. Other chili peppers, such as guajillo, pasilla, ancho, serrano and chile de arbol, are common in Mexican cuisine, but they are not very popular abroad due to their heat.
The hottest chili peppers in Mexico are habaneros, which rank very high on the scale. These are mostly used in Yucatan cuisine. The people there like to eat food that is hotter than the flames of hell!
Those pretty ones you see in the picture are growing on a vine in my backyard. They’re manzano chilies, and they rank somewhere between a jalapeno and a habanero.
They are evil little devils! I tried them and I had to put the following tips to good use.
12 Quick Ways To Put Out Chili Fire In Your Mouth
Here’s the scenario.
You have a delicious-looking plate of savory Mexican food. You can’t wait to try it! You grab your fork and eagerly shovel in a mouthful of enticing, sauce-covered food.
In a second, your mouth is burning, your eyes are watering, and steam starts coming out of your ears. You spit out the food, but it’s too late. You’re on fire! You need help! What can you do?
1. Lick salt
Remember what I said before about capsaicin stimulating your taste buds? You need something to counter that effect, and salt does just that. Grab the shaker, put some salt on your hand and start licking it. This is the best remedy by far!
2. Drink milk or eat dairy
Capsaicin happens to be soluble in oil so the fat in the milk will help you put out the fire. Take a sip and let the milk sit in your mouth. Sour cream, cheese, yogurt, and even ice cream are also effective. Have you ever wondered why Mexican dishes tend to be served with cheese or cream? Bingo!
3. Have some olive oil
Capsaicin is a hot, evil substance that is soluble in oil, so this one is a no-brainer. Have a tiny sip of the oil and let it coat your mouth.
4. Lick sugar
Grab a teaspoon of sugar and start licking it. It has the same effect as the salt.
5. Eat chocolate
Chocolate has fat in it, and it’s sweet, so it has a double effect against the chili heat. I’ve heard of people eating a spoonful of cocoa powder, too. Just don’t drink beer afterward.
6. Eat tortillas
Starchy foods also have a counter effect against the heat, so sprinkle salt on a tortilla and eat it! This is a very common remedy in Mexico, and it’s what my grandparents taught me to do in a chili pepper emergency. You could also eat bread, that works too.
7. Sip tequila
This was my grandpa’s favorite way of putting out a fire! As it happens, capsaicin is also soluble in alcohol, so there’s a science behind this remedy.
But don’t gulp down a shot of tequila! Take a sip and let it sit in your mouth.
You could also drink whiskey or a cold beer. However, beer doesn’t have as much alcohol in it so it’s not as effective as tequila.
As a matter of fact, tequila is the ideal companion to spicy, Mexican food. More on that here.
8. Lick lime juice
This also helps to counter the taste of the chili peppers. I don’t really like this remedy because it temporarily feels like there’s a burning hole in your tongue, but it does work. You could also eat another acidic food, like tomato slices.
9. Eat avocado
Avocado is effective because it’s high in fat. Most Mexican families always keep a bowl of avocados handy. Not only are they delicious with everything, but they also come in handy in a case like this.
However, make sure you eat an avocado slice and not a spoonful of guacamole because then it could have more chili peppers in it!
10. Don’t drink water
Drinking water would seem like the most obvious way to put out a fire, but it really isn’t. When you drink water, you are actually spreading the capsaicin more into your mouth, and even your throat. You might feel momentary relief, but the heat will come back even worse than before. Don’t do it!
11. Don’t drink soda
That is even worse than drinking water! Apart from spreading the heat, the fizziness will continue to stimulate your taste buds and the fire will become unbearable. Stay away from that can of Coke!
12. Don’t lick ice
Some people say that this works, but be wary of it. If you’re not careful, you might spread the heat. It’s a better idea to lick the ice after the heat has passed.
Finally, I would like to give you one final piece of advice.
Whenever you are trying a new kind of Mexican food, first ask if it is very hot- “Pica mucho?” (PEE-cah MOO-cho?). Even if the answer is no, do not dive into the food.
Remember that some people are not very sensitive to chili peppers because they eat them often. While it might not be hot for them, it might set you on fire!
It’s better to taste a little bit of the food first, and if it isn’t too hot for you, go ahead. And in case you do catch fire, you’ll know just what to do!