As an avid cook and recovering perfectionist, James has discovered many creative and tasty ways to perfect every dish.
Help! My Soup Is Too Spicy!
Did tasting your soup make you (and possibly an innocent bystander) a little wild around the eyes? Fear not! Most kitchens have at least one of ingredients needed to douse the fiery inferno you've created without butchering the taste.
7 Ways to Make My Soup Less Spicy or Salty
Adding any or all of the following ingredients can help reduce the heat:
- Something sweet (sugar, honey, etc.)
- More liquid (water or broth)
- Something starchy (like potatoes, rice, or pasta)
- Something acidic (tomatoes, wine, citrus, etc.)
- Dairy (yogurt, sour cream, milk, cheese)
- Coconut milk (the creamier the better, since fats absorb spiciness)
- My favorite way: Rebalancing the ingredients (see below)
Read on to learn the pros and cons of each method, how they rate, other methods that might work, and vegetarian and vegan options, as well.
1. Add Sugar
Take a tablespoon of granulated sugar and stir it into the soup until it has dissolved. It is better to add a little sugar (or honey) at a time to make sure the dish does not become too sweet and likely to send the kids plowing through the kitchen on a sugar high.
Does sugar really make things less spicy?
Sweetening a soup with a fistful of sugar will remove the bite, but adding too much sugar will butcher the taste (unless you're a sugar addict, in which case: bon voyage).
Solution rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
If done carefully, the sugar solution is cheap, easy, and time-efficient. But in this case you are literally playing with fire as solace may come at the price of flavor. If you are confident you know what you are doing, go for it. If not, my advice is to steer clear.
2. Dilute With Water or Broth
You probably thought about this one already, but it still must be mentioned. Adding extra liquid to the soup will dilute its overall spiciness and result in a tamer ratio of spice to soup.
Warning: The main problem with adding water is that you lose flavor. Even if you add broth instead, the flavor of the soup will be blander and less nuanced. Vegetable, beef, or chicken broth would all do, and the added fat of a meat broth would help tame the spice, but if saltiness is your soup's problem, then it's probably smart to choose an unsalted broth.
Solution rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
3. Add Starch
If you add a starch like potatoes or rice, you can soak up some of that excess spice. Think of it as death by potato: The quasi-miraculous absorbing powers of the potato can kill some of the burn quite efficiently. Slice a potato into several sections or add a half cup of dry pasta and let it simmer for around 20 minutes, with the flame on low. Or add a half a cup of uncooked rice, cover, and simmer on low for 20 minutes. The starch will soak up excess salt and spice, dimming the heat noticeably. Other starchy options: quinoa, barley, bulgur, or pasta.
Does starch really make spice less spicy?
This method is held by some to have merely a placebo effect since the starchy addition does not selectively absorb the spice but instead acts like a sponge. In other words, you're not actually reducing spice, you're just adding the bland bulk of starch to offset it.
Solution rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
This method is good because of the general ease of use and availability of these starchy ingredients and because their flavor will not greatly change or taint the soup's taste. The result will turn out more like a stew than a soup, but it will taste less spicy.
4. Add Acidic Ingredients
Acidic things (like lemon or lime juice, wine, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.) can all help cut the spiciness of a soup. If your too-spicy soup is tomato-based, an easy solution is to simply add more tomato. Add a cup of white wine to your too-spicy pot and call it "drunken chicken soup."
Warning: Acids also generally contain a lot of piquant or biting flavor, so adding them when you are trying to reduce a flavor may seem counterintuitive, and acids don't pair well with every type of soup.
Solution rating: 3 (out of 5)
5. Use Dairy (Milk, Yogurt, Sour Cream, Cheese)
There's a good reason why you see all those glasses of milk lined up on the table at the World Chile Eating Challenge. Dairy is the most-common go-to solution for dousing the flames.
If you aren't flatly against tampering with your culinary creation then adding dairy products to your soup will soothe its temper. There are two main ways to approach the dilution of spice with these additives: directly and indirectly.
- If you want to directly address the spice issue, simply add the aforementioned ingredients slowly and in stages. Yogurt works wonders with chili and curry.
- If you are pleased with the piquant flavor of your soup and do not want it altered, serve dairy products on the side to assuage the fire. This way, your soup remains—well—yours, and you can quench each spoonful to your taste.
Do milk and dairy products really reduce spiciness?
Yes, they do. The fats in dairy products help your mouth deal with capsaicin (the oily compound found in chili peppers and spices). Milk's casein proteins bind to and dilute the capsaicin and, because capsaicin is fat-soluble, pairing something spicy with something milk-fatty can put out the fire.
Warning: Once again, if we directly mix these dairy products into the soup, we run two risks: Firstly, we may ruin our carefully achieved taste. Secondly, if you are preparing the soup for unknown guests, you will exclude and potentially embarrass lactose-intolerant diners.
Solution rating: 4 stars (out of 5); 1 star if it excludes any lactose-intolerant guests.
6. Add Coconut Milk
If you or any of your guests are lactose intolerant, I suggest using coconut milk, which (contrary to its name) has no dairy. Get the kind that comes in a can—unsweetened. There are usually two options: light coconut milk, which has a more watery consistency, and coconut cream, which is thick, creamy, and decadent. They taste about the same only the cream is (of course) more creamy and so the added fat might work a little better to combat the heat.
Warning: The only issue with this solution will be the strong flavor of coconut, which doesn't mix well with some ingredients and doesn't appeal to everyone.
Solution rating: 3 stars (out of 5). A good solution if you like the flavor or coconut.
7. The Best Way to Reduce the Heat: Rebalance the Ingredients
Correcting your soup with logic can be the best approach, assuming you have the time and ingredients. The solution involves adding more of all the ingredients (except the guilty spice!) to balance the soup. By adding more of everything else, you retain the flavor you were hoping for but reduce the heat. The only drawback here is more soup. This may be fine if you are making dinner for two, as a dinner for three will only leave a little leftover. But in large quantities, it may not worth the effort. Still, I usually find that the power of pride compels me to choose this method.
Warning: May cost more and lead to more food waste.
Solution rating: 5 (out of 5) If you have the time and money; 0 stars if you don't.
What Are Vegetarian, Vegan, Dairy-Free Ways to Tone Down the Spice?
There are many substitutes for dairy that can be used to tame the heat. In addition to the options already mentioned above, you might use. . .
- vegan creamer, milk, or cheese will do the trick.
- nuts and nut butters like peanut butter, almond butter, and tahini: their oils can help offset the capsaicin.
- avocado adds a cool creaminess to offset the spice.
Mix-and-Match Solutions for Excess Spice
If you don't want to add too much of one single spice-fighting ingredient, if you'd rather not overwhelm your soup with just one of these flavors, you can choose several methods from this list to team together.
- Chile too spicy? Add avocado (fatty fruit), sour cream (acidic dairy), a squeeze of lime (sweet and acidic), and a handful of grated cheese (dairy) on top.
- Yogurt (acidic dairy) and pineapple (acidic sweet) are both great choices because they combine methods.
- Too much cayenne pepper? Add a scoop of yogurt (acidic dairy), a spoonful of sugar, and just a bit more broth.
- Ranch or blue cheese dressings (acidic dairies) also work wonders, and this is why they serve hot buffalo wings with these sauces to dip into.
Different Solutions for Different Types of Spices
|What kind of spice?||How to tame the heat:|
Capsaicin (chile peppers)
Use fats and oils.
Piperine (black pepper)
Use alcohol (wine, beer, vodka, etc.).
Garlic and onion
Use fat AND alcohol together.
Add something acidic or dilute with starch.
Cook longer to reduce flavor.
As you can clearly see, an overly spicy soup is never a lost cause. In fact, you may even end up improving the taste (granted, this is unlikely). I hope you enjoyed this article; please feel free to share any thoughts or methods on the comment section below and I'll do my best to incorporate them as soon as possible!
Thanks for stopping by!
© 2010 James Nelmondo
toolongdidntread from San Francisco Bay Area on January 27, 2012:
Hmm... what about dilution? Adding water would expand the density of the spiciness, resulting in a lower spicy-unit-per-cubic-centimeter rating, which is the official rating system of the International Spicy Soup Consortium (ISSC).
Sue on December 26, 2011:
I made some vegetable soup. I followed the recipe but found out that it had too much of a sweet taste to it. The recipe called for 3 t. beef bouillon and 3 cups fo vegetable juice. Would this have made it sweet?
hot2manytimes on November 21, 2011:
the potato does work to remove some of the spice,but not all I have used it mucho!!
Ela Enakhifo on November 10, 2011:
I rarely consider too much pepper a problem, because I like my food reeeaally spicy. If you make something that is really hot by accident, just pour everybody nice big glasses of milk and say enjoy! :)
SilverGenes on June 24, 2010:
I swear by the potato for too much salt - just toss 'em in and scoop 'em out after. For spice, you're probably right with the last one. :)
James Nelmondo (author) from Rome, Italy on June 11, 2010:
Thank you Wbisbill! It seems to be a startlingly common mistake. Thanks for stopping by!
Wbisbill from Tennessee USA on June 11, 2010:
Great advice and interesting hub. I tend to make my soups (especially chili) too hot. Thanks!