We all have friends who seem to be able to withstand any level of spice and heat in their food. Scotch bonnet chilli? No problem. Extra hot at Nando’s? They wolf it down. Phaal Curry? Give them another plateful. But – and we’re sure everyone else has wondered – how do they do it and can we learn how to eat spicy food like a boss as well?
It’s all about practice
Contrary to popular belief, people are not born with a natural love for or resistance to spicy foods. It’s an acquired trait. Chillies cause a sensation of heat and pain because a molecule in them, capsaicin, excites the tongue’s pain receptors, setting off a reaction to tell your brain that something is going wrong. In reality, of course, chilli does no damage to you – it just makes you think it does. But capsaicin also depletes the number of neurotransmitters around the tongue, the things that communicate between the pain receptors and the brain. So, the more chilli you eat, the less it will hurt.
Drink an ice-cold drink
While you’re learning how to eat spicy food like a boss in the long-term, there are some short-term steps you can take. The first of these is to drink something ice-cold while you are eating spicy food. Like applying ice or a cold compress to an injury, drinking an ice-cold drink numbs the pain receptors in your mouth, which means whatever pain you’re experiencing will be toned down a bit, making it more manageable.
Eat more slowly
When we eat spicy food, we are naturally temped to eat it fast. Maybe we think this will make it less painful or will just get the whole experience over and done with more quickly. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do. When it comes to capsaicin and your pain reactions, the equation is simple – the more capsaicin there is in your mouth at one time, the more pain you will feel. You’ll enjoy your meal more, and with less irritation, if you eat it slowly, limiting the amount of capsaicin on and around your tongue at any one time.
Have a glass of milk to hand
Some people think this is a bit of an old wives’ tale, but actually there is a scientific reason why drinking milk after spicy food cools you down. Milk contains a compound called casein, which binds to the capsaicin from the spicy food and washes it away, relieving you and your tongue.
Start with things that mix spicy and cool flavours
While you’re getting used to spicy food, it’s best not to go straight for the hottest dish on the menu. You’re better off eating things that mix spicy and cool flavours – curries that have yoghurt in, for example. There are some great options for that kind of cuisine in Singapore, including Nalan Restaurant and Muthu’s Curry.