Milk is often consumed as a means to alleviate the burning sensation and discomfort caused by spicy foods. But why does milk help with spicy food, and how does it work to neutralize the heat?
The active component in spicy foods that causes the sensation of heat is a group of compounds called capsaicinoids. These compounds are found in high concentrations in the seeds and ribs of chili peppers, and they interact with a specific type of receptor in the mouth and throat called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1). When capsaicinoids bind to TRPV1 receptors, they trigger the release of a chemical called Substance P, which sends a signal to the brain that the mouth and throat are experiencing a painful stimulus.
Milk contains several compounds that can help to neutralize the heat of spicy foods. One of these compounds is a protein called casein, which is responsible for the majority of the milk’s whitish color and thick consistency. Casein is a type of phosphoprotein, meaning it contains both protein and phosphate groups. These phosphate groups are attracted to the capsaicinoids in spicy foods and help to bind them, effectively neutralizing their ability to bind to TRPV1 receptors and trigger the release of Substance P.
In addition to casein, milk also contains fats and sugars that can help to soothe the burning sensation caused by spicy foods. The fats in milk help to coat the mouth and throat, providing a layer of protection against the capsaicinoids. The sugars in milk, such as lactose and galactose, can help to provide a sweet counterbalance to the spicy flavors in the food.
It is worth noting that milk is not the only substance that can help to neutralize the heat of spicy foods. Other dairy products, such as yogurt and ice cream, also contain casein and may provide some relief from the burn of spicy foods. Additionally, many people find that drinking water or eating starchy foods, such as bread or rice, can also help to alleviate the burning sensation caused by spicy foods.
In conclusion, milk helps to neutralize the heat of spicy foods due to its high content of casein, a protein that binds to capsaicinoids and prevents them from activating TRPV1 receptors. Milk’s fats and sugars also contribute to its effectiveness in reducing the burn of spicy foods by coating the mouth and throat and providing a sweet counterbalance to the spicy flavors. While milk is not the only substance that can help to alleviate the discomfort caused by spicy foods, it is a common choice due to its availability and effectiveness.