How to Take the Spicy Heat Out of a Dish

Close-up of red and green chili peppers

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It's all too easy to become overzealous with spices when you're cooking. Especially when trying recipes from other cultures, you may not be accustomed to the amount of heat in a dish. If you've tasted something and experience only the heat with none of the flavors of the spice, tone down the heat by adding a few extra ingredients to counteract the effect the spiciness has on your tongue.

Omit or reduce the amount of spices in a recipe if you know you're sensitive to the heat in foods. Halving the amount of spices called for gives you some of the flavor with less of the heat. When you find a balance that works for you, make note of your recipe alterations for future reference.

Add a dollop of dairy product to the dish to help tone down the heat. Dairy products, naturally mild and bland, counteract the heat of spices without altering the composition of the dish. Since the amount of milk, cream or sour cream needed depends on the amount of spice in your dish and your own tastes, add a tablespoon at a time, sampling between each addition until you've fine-tuned the taste and heat level.

Drop a teaspoon of sugar or honey into the dish, if adding sweetness won't compromise its flavor. Both sugar and honey, used sparingly as the opposite of the heat, effectively cancel out the spiciness. Since sugar and honey can be strong, they work best in Asian-inspired dishes that call for sweetness, such as sweet-and-sour sauces.

Increase the amount of bland ingredients in your recipe to water down the taste of the spice when you've added too much. For example, for a tortilla soup that's too spicy, add more rice, beans or broth to dilute the heat so it's more manageable. A good measure is to repeat the recipe, halving it and omitting the spice.

Serve spicy dishes with dairy on the side, so guests can add as much or as little as they want to tone down the heat, to taste. Cream-based salad dressings, cream cheese and sour cream can all be added after a dish is prepared.