Building Your Spice Tolerance Level? These 6 Tips Can Help

If you love the Sean Evans-starrer popular game show Hot Ones where celebrities are challenged to eat multiple wings covered in hot sauce, with escalating, chances are you’ve wondered about your spice tolerance. In fact, if you love exploring South Asian food or Mexican cuisine, certain regional biryanis or Indian meat curries, you may have had your spice tolerance tested at various points.

Many cultures have developed techniques and recipes that balance spiciness with other flavours, making the heat more palatable. For example, Mexican cuisine often combines spicy chillies with creamy elements like avocado and cheese, while Indian cuisine uses yoghurt and ghee to balance fiery spices. However, if you want to improve your spice tolerance, eating spicy food is not the only solution. You can gradually build your tolerance to intense spices with a few simple habits. Let’s look at some of them.

Start Slow 

When beginning to build your spice tolerance, it's crucial to start slow and gradually increase the heat level. Your body needs time to adjust to capsaicin, the active compound in chilli peppers that causes the sensation of heat. Start with peppers that are low on the Scoville scale, such as bell peppers or banana peppers. Gradually move to hotter varieties like jalapeños, serranos, and then habaneros. 

By adding small amounts of spice to your meals and slowly increasing the quantity over time, you allow your taste buds and digestive system to acclimate without overwhelming them. For instance, use a dash of hot sauce or a pinch of chili flakes in dishes you're already comfortable with, and mix spicy and non-spicy foods to dilute the heat. Track your progress and gradually up the ante when you feel ready.

Pair with Cooling Agents

Spicy foods can be made more manageable by pairing them with cooling agents. Dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese, contain casein, which helps to neutralize capsaicin. Including these in your spicy meals can significantly reduce the burn. Additionally, foods with high-fat content, like avocados, can also help mitigate the heat. 

For example, if you're eating spicy curry, have a side of raita or a glass of milk nearby. The cooling effect will make it easier for you to handle the spiciness and enjoy the flavours more fully.

Try to embrace the burn

Building spice tolerance involves embracing the burn and understanding that the heat sensation is temporary. The discomfort you feel when eating spicy food is due to the activation of pain receptors in your mouth. Over time, repeated exposure will desensitize these receptors, making the burn feel less intense. Instead of avoiding the burn, try to acknowledge and tolerate it. Mindfulness can be a useful technique here; focus on the flavours and the overall experience rather than just the heat. 

As you get used to the sensation, your body will become more accustomed to handling spiciness, and you'll find that you can enjoy hotter foods without as much discomfort.

Use spices in cooking regularly

Incorporating spices into your daily cooking routine is a practical way to build your tolerance. Experiment with different spicy ingredients like chilli powders, hot sauces, and fresh peppers in various dishes. Start with familiar recipes and add a little spice, gradually increasing the amount as you become more comfortable. For instance, if you enjoy pasta, try adding a bit of crushed red pepper flakes to your sauce. If you like stir-fries, toss in some sliced jalapeños or a spoonful of spicy sauce. Consistent exposure is key to building tolerance, so make spicy foods a regular part of your diet.

Understand your limits

Knowing and respecting your limits is important when building spice tolerance. While it's good to challenge yourself, pushing too hard can lead to unpleasant experiences and even digestive issues. Pay attention to your body's signals and take note of what feels manageable versus what feels overwhelming. If a particular level of spiciness causes discomfort or pain, scale back and give yourself more time to adjust. Gradually increase the heat as your tolerance improves. This approach will help you build your tolerance without causing harm or discouragement.

Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is crucial when consuming spicy foods. Drinking water can help wash away some of the capsaicin from your mouth, although it doesn't neutralize it. Other beverages, such as milk, can be more effective due to their fat content. Additionally, keeping your body well-hydrated helps your digestive system process the spiciness more efficiently. Alongside water and dairy, consider beverages like iced tea or fruit juices, which can also provide some relief. Sipping on these throughout your spicy meal can make the experience more pleasant and manageable.