While Indian food is known for its spiciness and heat, sometimes (rather often) this heat can be too much.
While living in India, I was oblivious to how spicy Indian food can be, until we moved to Arizona, USA and invited a few American friends over to lunch.
I made all the varieties for Indian food but I could tell they were not able to eat them much as it was way too spicy for their palate and I had to come up with solutions asap to fix it.
In this post, I have shared some tried and tested ways learnt over the years that I have used to reduce the spiciness of curry. You can use these tips to make the spice level as per your guest’s or your palate.
- What makes Indian food spicy?
- What makes curry hot?
- How can you fix the spicy curry?
- Add cream to it
- Add sugar to it
- Add yogurt to it
- Increase the quantity
- Add potatoes
- Add some ghee or butter
- Eat it with high starch food like rice
- Add citric flavor
- Eat it with a drink like buttermilk or lemonade
- Add a nut paste
- Add Mayonnaise
- Add Sour Cream
- Crème fraiche can cool a curry too
- Start Over if all else fails
- Make sure you use the right chili when cooking
- Know the difference of heat between fresh and dried chili
- Use kashmiri mirch if needed
- Taste as you go
- Keep an eye on other spices as well
- Do not use chili but spices to add more flavors to the curry
- Can I add milk to curry?
- Related Posts
What makes Indian food spicy?
There are a lot of spices used in Indian cooking, each spice has its own flavor profile and aroma that they bring to the dish.
Of all the spices used there are a few that have a lot of heat in them, especially Chili. Chili has a lot of heat in them which comes from a compound called Capsaicin. Capsaicin has a lot of effects on the gastric system and can cause an upset stomach.
The first effect of Capsaicin is on our palate and it makes us realize how much heat there is in the curry. More chili means more capsaicin and thus more heat in the dish.
While there are a lot of people who like the hot and spicy as this study confirms. There are many like me who love their curries mild or medium as the hot ones don’t really sit well both with my palate and digestive system.
What makes curry hot?
The spiciness or heat in the curry is generally because of chili. Chili have a chemical in them called capsaicin, which causes a burning sensation when it comes in contact with our tissues. This is the reason why when you eat a hot or spicy curry, it feels like your mouth is set on fire. The burning sensation is caused by capsaicin present in the food.
As capsaicin is not water soluble it is hard to get rid of the burning sensation with just water and we need to try different things to control the heat.
How can you fix the spicy curry?
A study performed in Germany, compared the effect of capsaicin burn under different food combinations and confirmed that sugar, starch and fat together reduced the burning effect the most.
It confirmed that higher sugar, starch and fat content decreases the oral burn perception from capsaicin.
We have listed all the possible ways in which you can tame the heat in your curry. You can use any one of these depending on the curry and what you have available at hand.
Add cream to it
Cream has a sweet taste to it and it makes the curry have a thicker and richer consistency. When you add cream not only will it subside the heat and spiciness of the curry but will also elevate its texture to smooth and delicious.
Word of caution though, taste as you add cream to it and do not add too much in one go.
If you add too much cream then it can overpower all the flavors and spices in the curry and make it into a mushy gloop with little to no flavor.
Also, do not add cream when the curry is hot or being cooked. Cream should be added at the end little by little and mixed as you go. This prevents it from curdling and spoiling the whole dish.
Add sugar to it
You can tame the heat by adding sugar to it. Sugar will take the edge off the heat in the curry and make it more palatable. The flavors will be more like hot and sweet together and they tend to balance themselves.
Like cream, do not add too much sugar in one go as it can overpower the flavors and make the curry a sweet dish and lose all its flavors. Go slow and taste as you add more to it.
You can also use other sweeteners like jaggery as well instead of sugar.
Add yogurt to it
Yogurt has a variety of flavor profiles, depending on the type you use it can be sweet, savory, sour, and/and rich. When mixed into the curry, it will impart its flavor to the curry and subside the chili flavor and heat present in the curry.
The yogurt will make the curry very rich and also increase its quantity so you can have more curry to eat.
While adding make sure you whisk it well so that it does not curdle and also don’t add it in hot curry as it can curdle. Make sure you mix it as you add and taste it before adding a lot of it.
The best bet would be greek yogurt as it’s the thickest of all so would give the most flavor and richness to the curry.
Increase the quantity
You can increase the quantity of the curry by adding ingredients to it. If the curry is vegetable based then add more vegetables or meat or any other ingredient you have in the curry.
Do not add any spices as you add the staples or main ingredients as the goal is to balance out the heat by increasing the volume.
Potatoes are high in starch and starch content plays a significant role in reducing the perception of oral burn.
You can add boiled and mashed potatoes as a gruel or a paste to the curry if you prefer that. Another option is to boil and mash them and then add them as chunks into the curry.
The starch present in potatoes will make the curry thicker and will also reduce the oral burn sensation that is associated with capsaicin.
Add some ghee or butter
Capsaicin is soluble in fats and dairy products and not water. This is the reason why drinking water does not give us much relief from the heat of spicy food.
To ensure that heat of capsaicin does not stay on our palate for too long and gets dissolved quickly, you can add ghee or oil to it.
Again, do not add too much as it can spoil the dish but adding a little bit can take the edge off the spiciness and make it easier to consume.
Eat it with high starch food like rice
Rice has a high starch content which has been found to reduce the oral burn perception of capsaicin. More starch you eat the curry with lesser would be burning effect of capsaicin.
Thus, if you eat the curry with rice instead of naan then you will feel the heat less. It will be much nicer on the taste buds.
Add citric flavor
If you cannot add cream or yogurt to the curry then you can add lime juice to it. The lime juice reduces the burning sensation felt from the presence of capsaicin present in the curry.
It will give the curry a tangy flavor and make it easier on the taste buds.
The alkali and acid will balance each other out, neutralizing each others effect.
Eat it with a drink like buttermilk or lemonade
The fat present in the buttermilk can dissolve capsaicin which is fat soluble and does not let it stay on our taste buds for too long. This reduces the oral burning sensation that eating a hot or spicy curry brings with it.
When you drink a lemonade or orange juice with the curry then the citric nature of the drink takes the edge off of the heat present in the curry. It makes the eating experience more pleasurable than setting of mouth on fire.
Add a nut paste
As I shared in the beginning, fat reduces the burning sensation that is felt from the chili present in the curry.
Nut butters are a great source of fat and have a naturally sweet taste to them. The nut butters not only make the curry creamy, they also make the texture very smooth.
Adding nut butter will reduce the heat of the curry but make sure that you do not use the ones that have been sweetened.
The artificially sweetened nut butter can overpower the curry taste and spoil it too.
The best nut butter to use would be cashew as it is used often in Indian cooking and goes well with it.
Make sure you taste it as you go and then add more if needed.
When in a pinch you can also add Mayo to the curry to make it less spicy. While it’s conflicting and might not sound right but it works like a charm.
The key ingredients in Mayo are oil, emulsifiers (generally egg yolk) , vinegar, spices, flavors (sugar, salt).
Through the article we have specified multiple times that fat, sugar and citric acid (in vinegar) dissolve the capsaicin.
You can add mayo to the curry just as mentioned before, add little by little and taste it as you go so that the mayo does not overpower the curry flavor.
Add Sour Cream
You can also add sour cream to your curry. It will make the curry thicker but the fat and creamy nature of the sour cream will take the heat out of the curry.
Do not add too much sour cream in one go please, add less and you can add more as you go based on if you like the taste or not.
Crème fraiche can cool a curry too
Creme fraiche is a dairy product, a soured cream containing 10–45% butterfat, with a pH of approximately 4.5. So it is tangy and has fat in it.
It can definitely be used to cool down the curry. It might not go well with all the curries so you can try adding a little bit of it and see if it sits well with your taste buds.
Start Over if all else fails
Its much harder to remove the effect of the spices once they have been added. I have tried doing it couple of times and have ended up with the double the amount of curry which still could not be salvaged.
Sometimes, its wiser to understand when you have reached a point of no return and just start afresh. Rather than trying to fix what has already beyond our reach, advise would be take note and use it as a learning for next time.
Next time when you make the curry, you can keep these pointers in mind so that you can prevent the curry from getting spicy again:-
Make sure you use the right chili when cooking
There are different heat levels associated with different types of chili. All chilies are not made the same and their heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units.
You can refer to the table here for more details.
The chili used in Indian cooking are usually Thai Chili which can be very hot so make sure you use them sparingly or increase the usage gradually.
You can also reduce the heat of the chili being used by removing the seeds within it.
Know the difference of heat between fresh and dried chili
The capsaicin content increases 4-10 folds by drying of the chili. This study confirms that fresh chili has much less heat compared to dried ones.
Pay close attention to whether the recipe is using fresh chili or the powdered ones and stick close to the quantity being used.
Use kashmiri mirch if needed
If you want just the color of the chili but do not want any taste or flavor of it, there are kashmiri chilis available.
Kashmiri chili has a redness to it without the heat. Here is a link to the ones we use, you can try them. You can get the colors without the heartburn.
Taste as you go
It’s always better to add less than to add more and try to fix it. If not sure of the amount of heat add little by little and taste as you go. This will ensure that you have a handle on the curry flavors and they don’t go too far from your linking.
Keep an eye on other spices as well
While chili is the main contributor to the heat of the dish, there can be other accomplices as well like mustard seeds, ginger and balck pepper. Be aware that these ingredients can also make the curry hot and careful when you use them.
Black pepper has a compound called piperine that can add some heat as well.
Do not use chili but spices to add more flavors to the curry
Do not use chili but spices to add more flavor to your curry. Usually when making the curry we tend to go overboard with the chili to make it more flavorful.
The flavors and depth of the curry come from the spices used in making it. You can make a great tasting curry by using spices like bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom which are not spicy at all but impart great flavors and aroma to any curry they become part of.
Can I add milk to curry?
No, please do not add milk to the curry as it can curdle and spoil it. You can add yogurt though but make sure its whisked and curry is not too hot.
My favorite tip which I use all the time for my kids and guests if something is too spicy for them is yogurt.
Yogurt is always handy in our kitchen and works like a charm every time.
You don’t even have to add it to the whole bowl, you can simply provide it along with the curry and the person can mix the yogurt into the curry and eat them together.
Do let me know which one of these tips worked for you 🙂