Does Vegan Milk Help With Spicy Food?

Written by: Kelly Donovan

Mouth on fire after eating that delicious vindaloo or tikka masala curry? While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of spice, you may want to neutralize the heat, even if just to catch your breath before the next bite.

We’ve heard cow’s milk is a great remedy for spicy food, but what if you can’t drink it? Does non-dairy milk help neutralize spicy food? 

Unfortunately, vegan milk is not as effective for spicy food because it often lacks a vital nutrient—protein.

This article will explore what happens when you eat spicy food, why cow’s milk helps neutralize the heat, why plant-based (vegan) milks aren’t as effective, and what you can do as a vegan to alleviate the discomfort instead.

Why Spicy Food Burns Your Mouth

Most spicy foods contain chili peppers. And all chili peppers contain capsaicin, an oil-like compound that belongs to the vanilloid family — although it definitely doesn’t taste as sweet! 

When we take in this active component, it causes a burning-like sensation on the tongue that can leave you sweaty and gasping for water.

Now, capsaicin doesn’t actually burn your tongue; it tricks the brain into thinking there’s a change in temperature causing it to react accordingly. 

The body will try to cool itself off by sweating or panting, and also by increasing the production of saliva, mucus and tears. In particular, capsaicin irritates the mucous membrane in your nose which causes your nose to spark into action to get rid of the problem quickly.

While you may instinctively want to down a pint of water, you’d probably only be spreading the sensation further.

That's because capsaicin repels water and can only be dissolved in fats, oils, alcohol and a protein called casein.

does non-dairy milk help spicy food

Why Cow’s Milk Helps Neutralize Spicy Food

Cow’s milk contains a protein called casein which is a fat-loving protein and therefore able to break down and dissolve capsaicin. It works in much the same way as dish soap washes away grease.

A recent study has also shown that both whole and skim milk are equally as effective at neutralizing the heat.

This tells us the fat content is not as important as the protein content.

But what if you’re lactose intolerant, follow a vegan diet, or don’t consume dairy products for other reasons? 

Let’s take a look at vegan milk options in the next section.

Best Vegan Milk For Spicy Food

Unfortunately, plant-based milk options won’t help alleviate the heat as much as cow’s milk. And that’s because vegan milk doesn’t contain as much fat and protein (which is why it is the healthier choice generally even though it's not the best option in this case).

Vegan milk also contains zero casein because it's free from dairy.

Vegan milk will also contain a lot of water, which we know is not effective in dissolving capsaicin at all.

That being said, vegan milk can still help reduce the spiciness to a point, and almond, cashew and coconut milk specifically have been shown to help alleviate the burn, at least temporarily.

Let’s look at almond and cashew milk, and coconut milk in more detail below.

Almond and Cashew (Nut) Milk

We mentioned at the start of this article that aside from casein, fats, oils and alcohol can help break down capsaicin. Almond and cashew milk may not neutralize spicy food like cow’s milk does, but they can help.

For what almond and cashew milk lack in casein protein and high ratio of water, they do make up for it in the quantity of oily compounds found in the milk.

The oil and fat in the almond and cashew milk, although not as much as is found in cow’s milk, help dissolve the capsaicin making the burning sensation feel less intense.  

Almond and cashew milk also contains roughly 26 milligrams of magnesium which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties — and can help soothe that burning sensation in your mouth caused by capsaicin.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a great option for reducing the spiciness during the cooking process, as well as to soothe your burning mouth while you’re eating.

It also contains much less water than almond or cashew milk, even though it's still quite a lot at 50%.

However, coconut milk contains lauric acid, a saturated fat with anti-inflammatory properties.

This operates in a similar way to the anti-inflammatory properties in almond and cashew milk, but with an added taste bonus. 

In fact, coconut milk and cream is often added during the cooking process to thicken curry sauce and improve the taste of the dish, while also slightly reducing the level of heat.

vegan milk for spicy food

The Best Alternatives for Vegans

Aside from plant-based milk like the ones we have mentioned above, there are several other food options and tactics that can be more effective for reducing the level of heat.

It's important to note that in order to truly neutralize the spiciness, capsein is needed.

The following list will therefore only help to tone down the heat a bit, and not neutralize it completely. These include:

  1. Eating your spicy dish with starchy foods
  2. Add some acidity to your dish
  3. Add some sweetness
  4. Add some nut butter
  5. Eat some olive oil

Let’s look at each method below:

1. Eating Your Spicy Dish with Starchy Foods

Bread, rice, potatoes, tortillas, naan — you name it.

The starch in these foods provide a natural block between capsaicin and your tongue because some of it is absorbed in the process.

It’s no wonder starchy foods like these are a staple side with your curry.

2. Add Some Acidity to Your Dish

It’s all about the pH levels here.

Lemon or lime juice, vinegar, tomatoes, pineapple and wine to just name a few will all help neutralize the pH levels of the spicy oils, reducing that burning sensation in your mouth. 

Add this during the cooking process or pair with your dish at the end.

3. Add Some Sweetness

No, it’s not because the sweetness counters the spiciness.

It’s actually because the capsaicin is rather absorbed by the sugar — add a dash while you’re cooking or a little on the tongue to alleviate the heat. 

Whether you're using natural sugar like honey or a refined sugar, you should be left with a sweet taste in your mouth.

If you've opted to add during the cooking process, start with a small spoonful — you want to offset the heat and not make the dish sweet.

Eating a small piece of milk chocolate can also work wonders.

Milk chocolate not only adds a sweetness component, but it has a good amount of fat content to help reduce some of that heat in your mouth.

4. Add Some Nut Butter

Similar to the effects of drinking almond milk, adding a spoonful of peanut butter, almond butter or even cashew butter to your dish will offset some of that spiciness thanks to the levels of fats, sugar and oils.  

5. Eat Some Olive Oil

This may not sound particularly appealing, but it does work. Swallowing a spoonful of olive oil counters that burning sensation in a similar way to eating some nut butter.

Olive oil has the perfect combination of fats and oils, but perhaps try only if you have no other alternative as the taste may not be that great on its own!

can beer help with spicy food

Can Beer Help With Spicy Food?

While pairing a beer with a spicy curry seems the obvious choice, it's actually not all that effective.

While it's been proven that beer can dissolve capsaicin, and it therefore won't particularly help you fight the heat.

That's because beer is mostly made of water and contains only 5% of alcohol.

Drinking beer with your spicy dish could actually make that burning sensation feels worse.

The only benefit this beverage can provide towards neutralizing the heat is by providing some sweetness.

However, you'd need to look out for specific types of beer — namely English and Belgian-style ales that tend to be darker and sweeter.

Dairy-Free Foods with Casein

The following is a list of less obvious food sources that contain smaller traces of casein that may help with spicy food. 

  1. Dairy-free cheese
  2. Non-dairy coffee creamer
  3. Cereal bars
  4. Some chips and crackers
  5. Ghee

Not all these options are vegan-friendly, but we've listed them here so you have all the information.

What About Vegan Casein?

Interestingly, Fooditive — a Dutch food tech and ingredient developer — has recently announced a vegan-friendly casein protein made from peas.

The developer announced this vegan casein was developed as a backup plan to meeting future dairy demand can be used in milk, yogurts, cheese and pretty much any other dairy products.

It's set to hit the shelves this year pending GM regulation. 

Whether this vegan casein will be just as effective in breaking down capsaicin remains to be seen, but it's an interesting development nonetheless.


While it’s clear nothing beats cow’s milk when it comes to alleviating the burn of spicy food, there are plenty of vegan-friendly options available to you including almond, cashew and coconut milk, albeit they won’t be as effective because of their lack of casein.

About the Author

Kelly Donovan is a freelance writer. She enjoys helping people reach their wellness goals by educating them about how food plays a role in their health.