Why Does Milk Help With Spicy Food?

Milk Help Spicy

Hey there, spicy food lovers and capsaicin warriors! Ever taken a bite of something so hot it felt like your mouth was on a culinary expedition to the sun? And in that moment of fiery despair, have you ever reached for a glass of milk and found almost instant relief? Well, you’re not alone, and there’s some pretty cool science behind why milk acts like a fire extinguisher for that spicy food inferno in your mouth.

Burn is a pain response, not a taste, and pain always lingers. The pain will stay for a minute or two if you slap yourself. It is the same deal with chili burn. Pain is supposed to warn us that whatever we’re doing, we need to stop. Any cooler drink than your body temperature will give some immediate relief. It’s because of capsaicin, the stuff in chilies that makes the mouth burn. Capsaicin makes your mouth feel about 10 degrees Celsius hotter than it is.

Science says milk is the most effective beverage for alleviating spicy mouthburn. No beverage is going to take away all the pain immediately. Why? Because some research indicates that some cool beverages are more effective than others, milk comes out on top.

The thinking on this subject was recently turned on its head by researchers, including Dr. Alissa Nolden, a food scientist at UMass Amherst. “Prior reports that have looked at decreasing the burn from capsaicin have suggested that it was due to the fat content. Also, capsaicin is a lipophilic molecule, meaning it loves to be in a fat environment.”

We’re diving into the burning question: “Why Does Milk Help With Spicy Food?” So, grab a glass of milk (just in case things get too hot to handle), and let’s explore the fascinating chemistry that gives milk its superpowers against spicy food. Ready to turn down the heat? Let’s get started!

Why does milk help with spicy food?

Milk is believed to help alleviate the sensation of spiciness or provide relief after consuming spicy food. Here are the main points explaining why milk may have a soothing effect:

Casein and Capsaicin Interaction: Capsaicin is the compound responsible for the sensation of spiciness in chili peppers. Milk contains a protein called casein, which has the property to bind with and help dissolve capsaicin. Casein can be a natural detergent to disperse the capsaicin molecules, reducing their concentration and mitigating the burning sensation.

Fat Content: Milk is relatively high-fat, and capsaicin is soluble in fat. Consuming milk after eating spicy food can help dilute and wash away the capsaicin from the taste buds and mouth surfaces, temporarily relieving the burning sensation.

Cooling Effect: Spicy foods stimulate certain receptors in the mouth and throat, leading to a sensation of heat. Milk has a cooling effect due to its temperature and the presence of fats. Drinking milk can help cool down the mouth and provide a soothing sensation, counteracting the heat from spicy food.

Neutralizing pH: Some spicy foods, such as acidic or hot sauces, can have low pH levels, contributing to the perception of spiciness. Milk has a relatively higher pH, which can help neutralize the acidity and reduce the intensity of the spiciness.

Psychological Effect: The belief that milk helps with spicy food can have a placebo effect. When people believe milk will provide relief, their perception of the burning sensation may diminish due to the power of suggestion and expectation.

When you eat something, spicy capsaicin binds to your TRPV1 receptors. These receptors are proteins that are also pain receptor cells. When they’re activated by capsaicin, they send a danger signal to the brain. TRPV1 also detects actual heat and can be activated by temperatures over 109 degrees Fahrenheit [43 ºC]. It isn’t only in your mouth but also in the digestive tract, skin, and eyes all over the place.

Capsaicin is a nonpolar molecule, like oil. That means it won’t dissolve in water, so the water will not wash it away all that well. Milk is supposedly the best thing for beating the heat. Because of their fats, they are nonpolar and can clear out the capsaicin. But is that true? Research shows that milk’s protein helps with capsaicin heat, like casein. Some research has indicated that casein might remove capsaicin from the TRPV1 receptor.

How does milk help with spicy foods? Milk contains nine essential nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, vitamin A, B12, riboflavin, casein, and phosphorus. All proteins comprise many amino acids linked together in a long chain. However, milk protein is unique because it has a phosphate group attached to its amino acids. It doesn’t happen with hardly any other proteins in nature.

What’s so special about a phosphate group? Phosphate groups contain several oxygen molecules. These oxygen molecules give phosphate a negative charge. The negatively charged phosphate is essential because it strongly attracts positively charged calcium.

As pepper capsaicin is a nonpolar molecule, the attraction between negatively charged phosphate and positively charged calcium gives milk protein the ability to package calcium and phosphate into tiny particles. Each of these particles then combines to form a larger molecule called the casein.

The casein micelle also has a particular protein on its surface. That causes it to have a negative charge because of its negatively charged surfaces. When they get close together to TRPV1 receptors, they convert all spicy molecules into liquid. Also, casein keeps milk in its liquid form.

It is commonly known that taste sensations are grouped into sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami. These sensations become apparent when the molecules activate receptors on the food’s surface of taste bud cells. It will stimulate nerve fibers to fire an action potential, causing the brain to generate the experience of taste. But what causes the sensation of spiciness?

A signal is sent to the brain indicating the presence of a spicy stimulus. Thus, this produces the burning and spiciness sensations associated with spicy food. A good technique to relieve the spiciness is to drink milk. The protein in the milk will help break the bond between capsaicin and the VR1 receptors. VR1 receptors are not designed to detect capsaicin. These receptors are heating pain receptors.

Usually, these receptors are only activated when exposed to temperatures greater than approximately 42 degrees Celsius. So capsaicin is essentially tricking these receptors into believing something hot in your mouth. It gives a burning sensation and triggers two physical events associated with heat, such as sweating or redness. Drinking milk can help release this pain because milk proteins calm this receptor.

Frequently asked questions

Does water help with spicy food?

It is common to drink water while eating something spicy. But this doesn’t do anything to relieve the spiciness. It can make the spices even worse. This is because capsaicin is insoluble in water. Thus, you spread the spiciness around the mouth instead of removing it.

Which food helps from spicy?

Sugar, Lemon or lime, Peanut butter, Honey, Avocados, Bananas, Dairy products, Acidic foods, etc.

Why does spicy food burn when poop?

Hot peppers feel, but TRPV1 receptors are in many places, including the anus. The capsaicin doesn’t get completely digested. Some of it does get absorbed by the body and sent to the liver to be broken down. But some of it sticks around and gets pooped out. It means the TRPV1 receptors in the anus can interact with capsaicin like the ones in the mouth.

Now that we’ve uncovered the creamy secrets behind why milk helps with spicy food, you’re all set to face your next spicy challenge with confidence. Isn’t it amazing how something as simple as a glass of milk can be the hero we need in the face of a chili pepper challenge?

As we wrap up our spicy adventure, remember that science is not just about understanding the world around us—it’s also about enhancing our experiences and, sometimes, saving our taste buds from a fiery doom. So, the next time you’re about to dive into that plate of extra-hot wings, keep your trusty sidekick, milk, close at hand. Until our next delicious discovery, stay curious, keep exploring the wonders of food science, and may your culinary adventures be both spicy and splendid!

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Julia Rose

My name is Julia Rose. I'm a registered clinical therapist, researcher, and coach. I'm the author of this blog. There are also two authors: Dr. Monica Ciagne, a registered psychologist and motivational coach, and Douglas Jones, a university lecturer & science researcher.I would love to hear your opinion, question, suggestions, please let me know. We will try to help you.

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