Hot sauces, like the popular duo of Sriracha and Tabasco, can be a useful tool for brightening the flavors of a dish quickly. Not only does it add spice, a vinegar-based sauce can provide acidity as well. Those two benefits can easily become liabilities when you use hot sauce in excess, as you will have two strong flavors to deal with. If you are presently faced with this problem, there is still hope. While you cannot always remove the sauce, there are quite a few options for toning down too much hot sauce or masking it.
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The dilution method
If possible, you should dilute all the other ingredients to reduce the ratio of hot sauce in the dish. Sufficient dilution can make overly spicy food palatable again and can reduce the high acidity as well. Since you will be diluting all the flavors in the dish, you may need to add more herbs and spices to keep the dish from becoming bland.
You can neutralize high levels of spice and acidity by using a sweetener. Excessive spice often comes with bitter notes that the sweetness helps to mask. Along with distracting from the heat, a sweetener will also mask the tartness from the sauce’s acid notes.
You have many options when it comes to sweeteners. Choose the one that best complements the dish you are making; options include tomatoes, honey, or even pineapple.
If the problem with your excessive use of hot sauce is the acidity, baking soda may be what you need. Baking soda is also known as bicarbonate of soda and is very alkaline, which means that it can neutralize acidity in your dish from vinegar in the hot sauce. Add it to your dish in half- or quarter-teaspoon increments until the dish becomes more appealing to the palate.
Baking soda will cause bubbling as it interacts with the acid, but should not affect the flavor of your dish once the bubbling stops.
Milk and other dairy products are widely known to counteract the heat from chili peppers like those in hot sauce. The heat comes from the chili peppers’ capsaicin content. Capsaicin causes a burning sensation by interacting with the TRPV1 receptor. Milk contains casein, a protein that binds with the capsaicin before washing it away. Adding milk to your dish can thus help to reduce the effects of the capsaicin. If adding it to the dish during cooking is not feasible, consider offering yogurt or sour cream as condiments.
Note: Hot sauces that have a high vinegar content can cause milk to curdle. You can get around this by using flour or cornstarch to thicken and stabilize it, thus preventing separation.
While there is not a lot of science to back up the nut butter method, a lot of people claim that it works. Nut butters like peanut and almond butter can help to neutralize spice without their flavor being much of an issue.
In a chili and similar dishes, you can do this with a paste of masa and water. In curries and stews, consider adding pieces of potato. Potato may be able to absorb some of the spice thus reducing the level in the rest of the dish. You can then remove the potato before serving.
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