Chili Too Spicy? Here’s What Can You Do

Chili con carne, or chili, as we simply call it, is a hearty dish best served spicy. But the spiciness may be too much for some people, and that’s okay. Naturally, chili needs to be cooked with — well — chili. So you may want to know what to add to chili to make it less spicy.

If you want to make your chili less spicy by adding more ingredients, you can add a dairy product. Good examples to add are whole fat milk or heavy cream. You can also dilute the chili by adding more beef and beans. Increasing the liquids can also work. You can add more stock or tomato juice.

Chili isn’t chili without the spice, but it doesn’t have to be scorching hot. There are plenty of other ways to make chili less spicy.

bowl of chili

Add Dairy

It’s a common belief that if you eat something too spicy, you can relieve yourself by drinking milk. There is truth to that, and it is because of the protein casein, which is found in milk.


The main ingredient that makes chili spicy is chili peppers and chili powder (which are made from chili peppers). What makes chili peppers spicy is a molecule called capsaicin.

When we eat capsaicin, the molecule binds to pain receptors in our mouth. This binding sends a signal to our brain. Our brain then interprets this signal as a hot burning sensation.

What Casein Does

Casein binds to capsaicin, preventing capsaicin from binding to the pain receptors. The casein surrounds the capsaicin and washes it away. The process is like how soap washes away grease.

Dairy products you can add to chili are whole fat milk, heavy cream, yogurt, and cheese. You can use skimmed or non-fat milk too, but whole fat milk would have a better effect. You’ll find out below why the fat matters.

Can’t Consume Dairy? Use Plant-Based Milks

If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, plant-based milk help too. Capsaicin is soluble in fat. The fats in plant-based milk dilute the capsaicin, reducing the perceived heat.

Coconut milk works best because it’s the plant-based milk that has the most fat. You can also use coconut cream.

Dilute Chili By Increasing Ingredients

If you don’t want to add dairy or any milk product into your chili, you can add more of the other ingredients. Doing so will dilute the spiciness.

You can increase the beef and beans.  More beef and beans mean more of the spiciness would be spread out. You can also increase the liquids. You can add more stock or tomato juice or paste.

Another way to dilute the spiciness is by adding starch or flour. Adding starch or flour would also thicken the chili, so be careful. Chili has its origin in northern Mexico or southern Texas.

In these places, corn is prevalent. Hence, cornflour or masa harina is traditionally used on chili. But if you don’t have masa harina, you can still use other flours or starches.

You can even use whole starches like pieces of tomato or rice. Putting the potato or rice into the chili as it cooks will let the potato or rice absorb some of the spicinesses.

When diluting the spiciness, you’ll also dilute the other flavors. Hence, you may need to compensate. You may need more of the other spices as well, like cumin, garlic, and onions.

Add Sweetness

Making a spicy dish sweeter can reduce the perceived spiciness. To expand on that, we have to go through a bit of flavor science.

The Flavor Star

There are currently five general basic flavors that our taste buds perceive. These five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. These flavors can interact and enhance each other.

For example, salty and sweetness can enhance each other. But some flavors can balance each other. Meaning, that one flavor can counteract another if it’s too overpowering, thereby leveling it. You can find the relationships between these flavors in the flavor star.

In the flavor star, salty and umami are grouped together. Salty and umami share so many similarities when it comes to flavor perception. You can’t have an umami dish that isn’t salty (though you can have an umami dish that is too salty).

In the flavor star, the fifth flavor is spice. You can see that sweetness is the flavor that balances spice.

Hence, if your chili is too spicy, you can balance it with more sweetness. Simply adding white sugar can do the trick. If you are concerned with the sugar content, you can try non-nutritive sweeteners. Stevia or sucralose works well in cooking.

bowl of chili

Turn Up Acidity

As you can see in the flavor star, sour is another flavor that balances spice. We perceive sour with acids. Hence, adding acidic ingredients can reduce the spiciness. You can easily add more acid to your chili by adding more tomatoes.

Add more fresh tomatoes or add more processed tomatoes like tomato sauce or paste. You can even add sour cream or yogurt. These two products are not only sour, but they are also dairy. Hence, they can have a stronger effect on reducing the spiciness.

Adding acidic ingredients like lemon or lime juice to the chili may not be a good idea. But you can add lemon or lime juice to the other foods that are usually served with chili. For example, you can serve chili with slices of avocado tossed in lime juice.

Add Less Chili

If you already know that you or the people that will eat the chili have a low tolerance for spicy food, then put less chili. You can substitute some of the chili powder with paprika. If originally there are chili peppers, you can substitute those with bell peppers.

Serve With Starchy Foods

Instead of adding the starchy foods while cooking the chili, you can serve them together. Starchy foods will still absorb and spread out the spiciness. Serving chili with starchy foods requires no effort because it’s one of the ways to serve chili. You can serve chili with potatoes, rice, fries, tortilla, etc.

Related Questions

What can you eat with chili?

There are foods that go well with chili. When it comes to starches, you can eat chili with cornbread, corn chips, and tortillas. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rice are whole starches that you can also eat with chili. As for vegetables, you can eat chili with a fresh salad like coleslaw.

Can you make chili without chili powder?

You can make chili if you have no chili powder or don’t have enough of it. You can use a mix of paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and cayenne.

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