People love spicy food, and people also love beer. In fact, one of the most popular beverages to drink with spicy food is beer. You would think that’s because beer is cold, so people drink it to soothe their taste buds and relieve the burning. This is not entirely true, though. So, why do people drink beer when they eat spicy food?
Strong beers amplify the burning effect of spicy food in your mouth, which heightens the experience for those who crave it, causing the brain to release more endorphins (pleasure hormones). Light beer with plenty of hops, like a lager, may break down the spiciness and soothe your mouth.
So, people drink beer with spicy food for three reasons, two of which are exact opposites. To understand why we need to look at how spicy foods react in your mouth and what beer will do to that.
Let’s look at this phenomenon in more detail.
Why Do People Drink Beer With Spicy Food?
There are three common reasons why people may choose to drink beer with spicy food. The first is perhaps the most obvious, while the other two are a bit more obscure and scientific and even seem to contradict one another. The reasons are:
1. To Compliment The Flavor Or Clean The Palate
People have been pairing drinks with food for as long as we’ve been intelligent enough to do so. It’s an undeniable fact that certain drinks enhance the flavors of certain types of food.
Two of the most famous examples are white wine with seafood and rosé wine with cheese and crackers.
Sometimes people will choose a particular drink to clean their palate before taking the first bite of another type of food so that the taste of the previous dish does not affect the next one.
Both of these are reasons why people like to drink beer with spicy food. For example, a very popular pairing is a light lager with Buffalo wings.
The slight bitterness of the lager accentuates the flavors of the spices in the wings.
At the same time, the sweetness helps tone down the burning sensation so that your taste buds can more freely absorb the actual flavors of the food.
2. People Drink Beer To Soothe The Burning
For many people, the purpose of spicy food is to make their mouths burn. For the rest, it’s mostly a matter of forcing themselves to eat the food and trying to ignore or eliminate the burn.
One of the first things people go for when they can’t handle the burn anymore is an ice-cold beverage, like a glass of water or a beer.
Ironically, this doesn’t help. We tend to associate burning sensations with heat, which can be solved with cool or cold substances. Spicy foods aren’t necessarily hot in the classic sense, though.
The burning sensation is not caused by any kind of heat but by oils in the spices that become irritants on your tongue and in your mouth.
The irritants send signals to your brain that are virtually indistinguishable from those that inform your brain that a part of your body is burning, which is why you interpret it as a burning sensation.
But that is not what it is, and drinking a cold beer will not help. Since the irritation is caused by oils and beer is water-based, it will not dissolve the spice oils.
But some beers, including light lager, contain large amounts of a type of sugar that’s contained in hops.
Sugar counteracts the effects of the oils and may relieve the burning sensation a bit, which is why sweet fruits like raisins are popular additions to some spicy dishes, like curry.
3. People Drink Beer To Increase The Burn
Some people live for the burning sensation that they get from spicy foods. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven that the sensation can become a kind of rush and eventually become addictive.
This mainly happens because your brain releases a hormone called endorphins when you eat spicy food. It’s the “feel good” hormone your brain releases during any pleasurable experience.
Many foods cause endorphins to be released, including chocolates.
Some people crave spicy food because they want the rush from the endorphins without even realizing it.
These people will be glad to know that drinking certain kinds of beer with spicy food will increase the burning sensation.
As we’ve seen, the burning sensation is caused by irritants in the oil secreted by the spices. Alcohol is a similar irritant, so exposing your tongue to a strong beer with high alcohol levels will increase the amount of irritation registered by your brain.
What’s more, carbonation bubbles also act as similar irritants.
Though alcohol and carbonation are lesser irritants and their effects are generally mild on their own, they become potent when combined with the irritation caused by the spices.
The Best Types Of Beer To Drink With Spicy Food
The best type of beer to drink with spicy food will depend on which one of the three reasons you fall under. Let’s look at each option.
To Compliment The Taste
To complement the taste of spicy food with beer, you must first determine what spicy food you will eat.
For example, the same beer will have a vastly different effect when paired with mutton curry than Buffalo wings. The meat and other ingredients are different, and the spiciness comes from a different spice, too.
Curry, for example, works great with a beer that only has a gentle fizz and a slightly sweet taste. The smoother the beer is, the better it will accompany a curry.
On the other hand, chili peppers go best with a slightly stronger lager, though it shouldn’t be overly strong. The lager’s subtle bitterness accentuates the chilis’ natural sweetness and turns it into a meal made in heaven.
To Tone Down The Burn
If you want to drink a beer that will make the burning sensation slightly more manageable, the best beer to go for is a light, smooth lager. Any beer with less fizz and more sugar will help to control the burning effects of spicy food.
A smooth, light lager is the perfect option for this.
However, remember that beer is still not the ideal drink to tone down the burning sensation.
A less water-based drink with plenty of fat is much better, which is why whole milk is also a popular drink with spicy dishes.
To Amplify The Burn
Those who want to chase the thrill and get the endorphin rush will appreciate a beer that can accentuate the effects of the irritants contained in hot spices.
As mentioned, alcohol and carbonation are both irritants in themselves, so chasing down a bite of hot Buffalo wings with a mouthful of a strong beer with a high alcohol level and plenty of fizzes will have the desired result.
A stout or draft is the perfect accompaniment to spicy food for those who enjoy the burn and want more.
Beer is a beloved drink in most countries worldwide, and it’s popular to drink with spicy food. This is because the beer can help balance out the heat and enhance the flavors of spicy dishes.
The carbonation in beer can help cool down your mouth, and the sweetness in some beers can help counteract the spiciness.
However, it’s essential to choose the right type of beer.
As you’ve learned, hoppy and bitter beers can intensify the heat of spicy foods, so it’s best to stick with beers that are lower in IBUs or have fruity or herbal notes.
So next time you indulge in spicy cuisine, grab a cold beer and enjoy the delicious pairing!
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