Tempering The Heat

Tempering The Heat – Pairing Beer With Spicy Foods

Pairing food with beer

Not a new topic. Everyone seems to be an expert these days.  Thousands of blog posts, dozens of books, thousands of beer dinners. I have learned a great deal about the ideal beer to pair with food through these resources along with my personal experience.

Stout with oysters, Porter with BBQ, Brown Ale with Burgers, Pale Ale with Fried Seafood, Amber with Pizza and Bock with Brats but the one that drives me nuts is IPA and spicy food such as Indian, Thai and Mexican.

Most people think of spicy foods as foods that  provide heat. (Foods with chiles (Hot Peppers). But the word spicy obviously comes from the word spice such as cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and cumin. But these spices aren’t hot.  We can call foods that feature spices spicy can’t we? and they could even be mild  such as Chicken Paprikash and Mole Pablano. Both foods have strong flavorful spices but are quite mild.

So when experts recommend IPA with spicy foods, are they referring to hot dishes such as hot wings and salsa? I believe they are. But why do they recommend IPAs with spicy foods?  Some say it compliments the dish, some say it tames the heat and others say it accentuates the spices.

I have tried IPAs with many spicy(Fiery) dished and for me, It does everything but tame the heat. As a matter of fact, it fires my mouth up more which is what I expect but the good news is that the hops really do bring out the chiles, spices and citrus so this really is a great choice for spicy foods but to put out the fire? No, beer really isn’t the best choice at all and I will explain why.

The Active fiery component in hot peppers are called capsaicin and is fat soluble which means the spicy compound will bond with the fat in the food and lessen the pain therefor foods such as full fat dairy (milk, cheese and ice cream) will help put out the fire but water will add fuel to the fire.

Capsaicin is also soluble in alcohol and can be washed away in  beer and spirits but alcohol acts as a solvent, not a neutralizer so it will break it loose but may just spread it arround.

Sugar also plays a role in the effects of spicy foods. Sugar will help block the pain receptors so sweet foods and beverages are good choices.

Acidic foods such as vinegar and citrus will also neutralize the heat by blocking the pain receptors. Acidic dairy products such as sour cream and yogurt do very well.

So as for beer, the best choice to tame the heat are the sweet and acidic beers. Stick to beers that are malt forward or with a good amount of residual sugars. The ideal beer would be one that helps reduce the pain but compliments the fiery flavor so I would choose a maltier beer with a good hop profile, such as an american red ale. While Vienna lagers are not quite as hop forward, they pair well with spicy foods.

What aree your secrets to taming the heat?

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14 comments on “Tempering The Heat – Pairing Beer With Spicy Foods

  1. Very nice! I work for a gourmet hot sauce company part time and have heard every misconception about ‘beating the heat.’ The best method of course being milk/dairy, but sugar of course helps as well. I my post about pairing with wing sauces, I recommended Left Hand Milk Stout ;-)

  2. Nice post. I did a throwdown a little bit ago with some 5 pepper Drunken Noodle. It seemed like Deviant Dales made it worse at first, but eventually cooled stuff down (it does have a good level of sweetness to it). Left Hand Milk stout felt nice, but didn’t go well with the food. And Saison DuPont was the surprise. The carbonation really seemed to cut the heat pretty well (as well as being tasty with drunken noodle).

  3. Perfect timing Patrick – hubby and I are headed to a Mexican Restaurant for date night this month. We have both been on a mission to kick up the heat. You may well have provided the very solutions we need :)

  4. Sugar is a pain blocker? Nice, so the next time I take any hot spicy dish, I am going to keep some sugar handy!

    Whoever taught there would be so much science behind food! Thanks for the heads up!

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