Why Beer Is A Bad Choice To Soothe Overwhelming Spice

When something is burning, the natural inclination is to douse the flames (with the exception of bonfires and incense, perhaps). This human reaction also applies to our mouths; when something is spicy, we want to "put out the fire," so to speak. Many of us automatically reach for something cold to drink — and sometimes, that comes in the form of an icy beer. Even though your pint or bottle may be tempting you with its beads of condensation, it's probably the last thing you should reach for if you want to give your taste buds some relief.

Despite commercials and menus depicting beer sitting next to things like crispy hot chicken wings and nachos covered in pickled jalapeños, swigging a brew while your mouth is burning can actually make the sensation worse. Chilies get their spice from a naturally occurring chemical compound called capsaicin, which basically acts as an irritant to your mouth. Because beer is water-based — and because capsaicin isn't absorbed by water — it simply spreads the capsaicin around in your mouth, doing nothing to counteract the sensation. To be clear, yes, the initial shock of cold will feel good on your blazing tongue, and beer actually tastes quite good with things like a bowl of chili and Sichuan hot pot, but don't be surprised when, after you swallow, the heat feels like it's been cranked up.

Some beers might make the heat feel worse

Let's be honest: People are going to keep pairing beer with their Buffalo wings and Nashville hot chicken sandwiches. It's become habitual for many to enjoy the duo together. But if you're a beer drinker and a fiery tongue and sweaty forehead isn't necessarily what you're aiming for, choose your brew wisely. Bitterness and high alcohol contents are also considered irritants for your mouth and, when combined with another irritant like capsaicin, let's just say they don't play well together. Many IPAs, imperials, and double IPAs fit into these categories. Heavy carbonation can also make spice seem hotter.

On the other hand, because sugar triggers the brain to produce endorphins, drinking a sweet brew could potentially help take your mind off the uncomfortable sensation of heat in your mouth. Try something super-malty (which suggests sweetness in beer), like an English brown ale, the next time you dive into a spicy bowl of Indian pork vindaloo.

What to drink instead to soothe the burn

Although some may not like to hear it, if you really want to soothe the burn from eating spicy food, you may have to look beyond beer (and we don't mean hard liquor). Milk is a popular choice for wing-eating contestants for a reason. Milk contains casein, a protein that attracts and breaks down capsaicin, essentially helping it to wash down your throat, leaving a noticeably lighter feeling of heat. Casein is not present in nut, soy, or other plant-based milks, so the milk must come from cows to do the job. You're not limited to plain milk, either; any cow-based dairy product will do. A spoonful of cottage cheese, yogurt, or (our personal favorite) ice cream will feel great.

Similarly, drinking an acidic beverage like lemonade, tomato juice, or orange juice can help ease the burn of spicy food. Capsaicin is an alkaline, and since acid balances alkaline, a good swig of an acidic drink will help to neutralize the heat.

Even certain foods can help you cool down if you've gone overboard on the spice. Carbohydrates and starches literally coat your mouth, creating a barrier between your tongue and the capsaicin molecules. Try nibbling on some bread or rice if you're not too full from your extra hot bowl of dan dan noodles.