The Easy Way To Temper The Heat Of Your Canned Chipotles

Food needs to be balanced to keep your mouth interested. That's why a sprinkling of flaky salt across a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a spoonful of peanut butter in your chili can go such a long way in terms of making a dish crave-able. But one of the easiest ways to bless your food with extra complexity is by incorporating some spice. Red pepper flakes on pizza, a dash of Tabasco sauce on scrambled eggs, or even some chili-lime salt on fresh mango are all ways you can elevate your food with a hint of heat.

But if you want something that's all things spicy, smoky, and tangy, then look no further than a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. This super-charged ingredient, which consists of jalapeños that have been dried, smoked, and packed in a zippy tomato sauce, can transform anything from mayonnaise to meatballs or even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! However, despite their harmless appearance and cute orange can, chipotles in adobo pack some serious punch and will quickly overwhelm a dish if used with a heavy hand. But if this happens, don't fret; you can cool down chipotle's ferocity with a little bit of something sweet. Maple syrup, honey, sugar, or even some preserves can help tame the fiery dragon that is chipotle in adobo!

A spoonful of sugar makes the spice level go down

Chipotle peppers can be paired with all sorts of cuisines and flavor profiles, but sometimes the spice level can go beyond what you (or your mouth) can handle. Adding some sweetness not only helps balance flavor but also works at subduing the burn. Why? Chipotles and other chilis contain capsaicin, a chemical that clings to the tongue and is why spicy food feels hot. Sugar covers the surface of the tongue, preventing the capsaicin from overwhelming its receptors.

Depending on what you're preparing, you have several different sweet options that you can incorporate to temper the spice. For carnitas or slow-cooked shredded beef, some brown sugar, ketchup, or even grape jelly can provide the meat with a pleasant, sweet-and-spicy flavor. If using chipotles in a marinade for chicken, pork, or vegetables, add a squeeze of honey or agave to mellow the punch. And if you like to grill, add some caramelization and a kick to those ribs or chicken thighs with a maple-chipotle glaze. Dark chocolate and chilis are another classic flavor pairing; use a few squares to bring another dimension of complexity to chili or mole sauce, or even add a little chili to desserts, like cookies or bread pudding. 

Other ways to temper the heat of your canned chipotles

Adding a hit of sweetness is just one of several ways to tame the spice of your chipotle peppers. If you made an extra blazing batch of carnitas for taco night, serve them alongside a cilantro yogurt sauce or sour cream. The protein in dairy tames chili heat thanks to a compound called casein. You can also blend these dairy products with the chipotles themselves to create a harmonious sauce that's good slathered on a sandwich or used as a dip. Heavy cream, cream cheese, or mascarpone have the same effect and may be a better option, depending on the dish.

Citrus fruits are also helpful at subduing spice because the high-acid content counteracts the alkaline nature of the capsaicin. Try squeezing some orange or lime into your next marinade if you find that it's too intense. Incorporating some fat is another option for lowering the spice level of your foods. For example, the fats and oils inherent in peanut butter work towards dissolving the capsaicin, effectively neutralizing its irritating effects, which is one of the reasons it's such a clever addition to chili. But if you're aiming for that balance of sugar and spice, temper your chipotles with something sweet.