Right before serving a dish, finding out it has too much pepper can be a disaster. Luckily, there are ways to neutralize food seasoned with too much pepper, or to balance the pepper with other flavors. Since you can't take the pepper out, try adding neutralizing ingredients and the pepper won't overwhelm. Depending on the dish, sweetening the recipe, diluting the pepper by adding additional ingredients, putting in more fats or increasing the acidic content can tone down the spiciness of the pepper.
Because tongues detect sweetness before other flavors, adding additional sugar to a dish with too much pepper helps distract the tastebuds from the spice of the pepper. Before grabbing the sugar though, consider what types of sweetness may complement the meal. For instance, in a soup or casserole, add additional tomatoes, carrots or another vegetable with some natural sugar. Grilled or broiled meats with too much pepper may benefit from the sweetness of a honey glaze or barbecue sauce. Sugar isn't a bad choice, but consider adding flavor in addition to sweetness by using molasses, honey or maple syrup instead of granulated white sugar. Avoid adding calories or carbs by using zero-calorie sweeteners.
If the dish permits, simply diluting the pepper with more of the dish's other ingredients may take care of the problem. In a soup, add additional broth, vegetables or meat. A starchy and bland vegetable like a potato diced and thrown into the pot helps absorb some of the extra pepper. In a meatloaf or casserole, throw in additional breadcrumbs or noodles and an extra egg.
Add an Acid
Because pepper is a chemical base, adding acid helps neutralize the flavor. Consider a splash of lemon juice on grilled meat or fish, or in a sauce or glaze. In pasta sauce or soup, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce serve the same purpose. Choose lime juice for Asian dishes. Apple cider vinegar works well in pork dishes as its slight sweetness complements the richness of the meat.
Adding fat to a food seasoned with too much pepper neutralizes it by denaturing the enzymes that create the heat and flavor of the pepper. Sometimes a drizzle of olive oil cancels out the pepper. Add a bit of olive oil to spaghetti or lasagna with too much pepper. In other cases, incorporating full-fat cream or cheese adds richness while also cutting the spice. Use cream to enrich a broth-based soup. Sprinkle extra cheese on a casserole. Coconut milk provides both sweetness and fat to a stir-fry.
- The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook; Jack Bishop
- The Accidental Scientist Science of Cooking: Dinner Fix-It Quiz
Andrea Lott Haney writes articles and training materials for food industry publications. Having studied foodservice sanitation, nutrition and menu planning at Purdue University, Lott Haney has more than 10 years of experience as a catering and event planner for luxury hotels and currently tours the Midwest as a corporate customer service trainer and consultant.
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