How to make a curry less spicy

What makes curry spicy?

The main ingredient that takes the fieriness up a notch or two (or even a lot more!) is chilli. Whether fresh, powdered or flakes and regardless of the variety, all chillies contain a compound called capsaicin which causes the burning sensation we feel in our mouths when eating something spicy. Some people are more sensitive to capsaicin than others, meaning they can tolerate less chilli in food than others.

The measurement of how spicy something is determined by the Scoville scale. For example, a red pepper has an SHU (Scoville heat units) of 0 whereas a jalapeño pepper is a reasonable 10,000. A scotch bonnet has a seriously spicy 350,000 and Carolina Reaper (currently one of the hottest chilli peppers in the world) has an eye-watering 2,200,000 SHU.

What are some of the hottest curries?

Vindaloo is often thought to be one of the spiciest curries, as it is traditionally made with bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) which has an SHU that averages at around 1 million.

Jalrezi is also known to be spicy thanks to its tomato-based sauce with green chilli peppers, as is madras, which is made with both fresh green chillies and paprika.

Top five ways to make a curry or chilli less spicy

1. More vegetables

The easiest way to dissipate heat in any recipe is to add more ingredients, generally more veg will be the option you have to hand and they’re quicker to cook than some other options.

Starchy veg such as potato and sweet potato are particularly effective as the starch absorbs some of the heat. You can add them into the curry to be most effective or serve on the side to provide a plain counterbalance to the spice.

sweet potato and peanut curry served on white rice

2. Coconut milk or cream

For Thai curry and other similar coconut-based curries, add more coconut milk, or a spoonful of coconut cream to each serving to be stirred through. Coconut milk is a vegan option for all curries.

You can also try adding a splash of milk, if that’s all you have to hand. Milk contains a protein called casein which actually breaks down capsaicin and makes it less spicy – both full-fat and skimmed do the trick nicely.

Pot of fish curry with prawns and coriander

3. Lemon, lime or vinegar

Adding a squeeze of citrus, a splash of vinegar or some salt may also work (for both coconut-based and other curries like this goat curry) as they will balance out the flavour.

Pan of goat curry with coriander on top

4. Yogurt or soured cream

A dollop of yogurt or soured cream works wonders on Indian-style curries and your chilli base if you have really gone overboard with heat. Simmer the base gently once you have added it but don’t boil it or it may split.

Butter chicken served in a cast iron pan topped with cream and coriander

5. Sugar or ketchup

Sometimes a pinch more sugar helps, or for a tomato-based dish like this Cape Malay chicken curry, a spoonful of ketchup. Do taste as you go though, or you may end up with an overly sweet dish as well.

Cape malay chicken curry with turmeric spiced rice on a plate

Like this? Now check out these curry and chilli recipe ideas:

Delicious healthy curry recipes
Top 10 veggie curry recipes
Best side dishes to serve with curry
How to make Thai curry and curry paste
Our top curry recipes
Chilli con carne recipe collection

What’s your favourite tip for making a curry or chilli less spicy? Leave a comment below…

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