Your first instinct after eating something really spicy is to reach for a glass of water.
But that’s the wrong move.
Here’s why: Spicy peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which binds to a protein in your taste buds that’s responsible for sensing heat. When this binding occurs, your sensory neurons send pain messages to your brain to let you know that something hot — and possibly harmful — has entered your body, says Christopher Gulgas, Ph.D., an assistant chemistry professor at the University of Cincinnati.
But capsaicin has greasy qualities that don’t dissolve in water, Gulgas says. “So drinking a glass of water won’t remove it from your mouth.”
What should you do instead?
Chewing on ice cubes may help. While the water in ice won’t do squat, the cold will at least numb some of the pain, says Gulgas.
Bread is better. It absorbs liquid in your mouth, which can help pull the capsaicin molecules out of the receptors in your taste buds.
However, your best bet by far is chasing spicy foods with dairy, Gulgas says. A protein in dairy called casein binds to capsaicin and takes the heat-generating compounds out of your mouth, shuttling them through your digestive system and helping your mouth cool down quicker.
The effect is intensified with full-fat dairy, like whole milk, yogurt, and ice cream. That’s because capsaicin can also bind with the fat, so it’ll get washed away from your mouth even faster, Gulgas says.
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By: Paige Fowler