Wasabi stings! I am very much familiar with the nose-searing and brain-freezing feeling you get right after sampling wasabi. But why does wasabi burn your nose? Or brain, for instance?
Wasabi root or stem releases allyl isothiocyanate when chewed or crushed. It is a pungent composition that can send pain signals to the brain. Hence, you get a hot tingling in your throat, mouth, or nose right after having wasabi. Once consumed, this chemical vapor keeps traveling back upward.
Having chili also burns your mouth. Right? But how come the burning of wasabi is so different? Or how can you eat wasabi without burning? The following article explains it all.
- 1 Why Does Wasabi Burn Your Nose?
- 1.1 Is Wasabi Good For Your Nose?
- 1.2 Why Does Wasabi Burn Differently?
- 1.3 What Does Wasabi Do To The Brain?
- 1.4 How Do You Eat Wasabi Without Burning Your Nose?
- 2 Take Away
Why Does Wasabi Burn Your Nose?
The wasabi you consume comes directly from the root of the Wasabia Japonica plant. Surprisingly, this plant from the cabbage family has an in-built defense mechanism. When chewed, chopped, or ruptured, the wasabi frees a pungent taste that burns down the throat, mouth, tongue, and nose.
These roots release a chemical compound called allyl isothiocyanate into the digestive system upon consumption. The allyl isothiocyanate vapor then travels upward from your stomach to the mouth, into the nasal cavity.
Your immune system detects the pungent vapor as a toxin and activates protection immediately. In addition, TRPA1, one of our nose receptors, recognizes this compound and alerts the brain for a pain signal. As a result, you experience a nose-tingling burn after having wasabi.
Nevertheless, the burning sensation is not long-lasting. It is because allyl isothiocyanate can not lock a tight bond to the body receptors due to the solubility and volatility. Thus, the pain goes away after a while.
Is Wasabi Good For Your Nose?
A few years back, otolaryngologist David Cameron made a breakthrough and said that the nostril-searing wasabi is actually good for the nose.
He even tagged this green condiment as a sinus clearer. Therefore, according to him, consuming wasabi might be an alternative option for heart and hypertension patients who can not intake decongestants.
But wait. It was all true until he conducted the wasabi challenge experiment.
Cameron asked 22 medical residents to assess their breathing flexibility before and after wasabi intake. Surprisingly, there were contradictory results as at first 14 participants claimed to have easier breathing, 4 with congestion and 4 with no change.
While Cameron measured the shape of nasal airway passage via an acoustic rhinometer, an opposite result came up. According to the measurement, 15 residents have more congestion, and 7 have improved conditions.
Scientifically, there will be more congestion in the sinus mucus lining after sampling wasabi. It is because the participants at first experienced the placebo effect.
Wasabi causes a runny nose and allows more air to get in. As a result, you get to breathe more openly even with congestion.
Again, wasabi reacts with the nose heat receptors, making the brain believe that the congestion is gone. But in reality, you still have a congested nose, and wasabi does no good to your nose.
Why Does Wasabi Burn Differently?
Wasabi burns differently because of the allyl isothiocyanate.
I understand if you are a big chili fan and yet can not stand the hotness of wasabi. You are not the one to blame. It is just that the chemicals of chili are different from the ones of wasabi.
Do you know what makes the jalapenos, hot chili powders, hot sauces, and hot-pepper-derived foods spicy? Yes, capsaicin.
Capsaicin molecules can make a strong bond to your body receptor cells. They can even penetrate the cell membrane and intensify the burning of chili.
It triggers a pain signal in your brain and activates a defense mechanism. Your body tries to cope with the situation by raising body temperature, sweating, and whatnot.
On the other hand, when you break down the chemicals in wasabi, you will get allyl isothiocyanate. Unlike capsaicin, allyl isothiocyanate does not sit on your tongue. Instead, this volatile compound travels back to your throat, mouth, and nose.
You will feel irritation in your mouth, nose, and sinus as long as the allyl isothiocyanate vapor is in your system. But thank God! The allyl isothiocyanate vapor is not soluble and floats away soon.
In short, both chili and wasabi are hot and painful. But wasabi burns differently and lasts for less time because of allyl isothiocyanate.
What Does Wasabi Do To The Brain?
Wasabi roots or stem releases allyl isothiocyanate vapor upon consumption. This compound triggers the trigeminal nerve of your nose, which detects pain and sends signal waves to the brain.
You will be surprised to know that wasabi does nothing to your brain. In reality, the allyl isothiocyanate vapor does not react or come in contact with the brain receptors. So then, why do you feel that burning sensation in your brain?
The triggered trigeminal nerve activates neuropeptides, the chemical messenger for pain in your sinus. When your brain detects this auxiliary messenger’s accumulation, it spreads the pain to give you relief. Hence you get a headache or teary eyes right after wasabi sampling.
Sometimes our brain does not understand where the spicy stimulates are coming from. Yet, it reacts as a defense mechanism and to shorten the suffering.
Again, consuming wasabi can actually be good for your brain.
Wasabi has several health benefits, and promoting brain cells is one of them. Some studies on animals suggest that HICT, a wasabi-driven compound, reduces inflammation in the brain by increasing the activation of the antioxidant systems. Also, it prevents neurodegeneration disorders like Perkinson disease.
With more experiments, it is apparent that these effects are the same for humans too.
How Do You Eat Wasabi Without Burning Your Nose?
Wasabi burns your throat, mouth, and nose. True that. But it does not mean you have to eliminate wasabi from each dish. Instead, you can try out the tricks to stop or minimize the stings. Here is how,
1. Mental Notes
I remember the first time I tried out shocking bubble gum. I got electrocuted and made fun of myself in front of everyone. It happened because I was not prepared. After that incident, I tried shocking gums hundreds more times without such a hilarious reaction.
The same is for wasabi. You will get an instant burn, which might come to you like a sock if unprepared. So, brace yourself before sampling wasabi, and you will handle the sting better.
2. Do Not Overestimate Yourself
The burning sensation of wasabi goes away soon but makes you suffer within those few minutes. Hence, do not overestimate yourself and never add a chunk of wasabi to your dish.
Instead, take a pinhead of this green condiment and let your taste bud get familiar with the stinging. Then, aim for more only if your palate can handle it.
3. Adjusting Intensity
Wasabis will make your sinus burn anyway. So it is better if you can reduce the suffering.
Stirring soy sauce with this green condiment weakens its spice and hotness. Hence you can consume wasabi without any complaint. To match your spicy wasabi, you can use Yamaroku Kiku Bisiho Soy Sauce, a rich, complex flavor.
But wait! Too much soy sauce will ruin your dish. What to do then?
Generally, the chefs will add soy sauce, maintaining a proportion if you inform him while ordering. Or you can dip your roll into the mixture instead of pouring the sauce and wasabi on your dish.
4. Breath Out!
Why do you get a hot burning sensation after consuming wasabi? It is because of the allyl isothiocyanate. So, if you can exhale the fumes while breathing, it will not affect you much. To acquire this benefit, inhale with your nose and exhale with your mouth.
5. Take A Sip
Do you know drinking tea before having wasabi protects you from the burn?
Yes. Apparently, the tea provides a layer on your tongue and weakens the effect of wasabi.
But never drink tea while having this green condiment. In such a case, hot tea spreads the fumes throughout your system and makes you suffer even more.
It is okay if you are not a tea person. Drinking carbonated soda has a similar effect.
6. Wasabi Everywhere
The best way to cope with the wasabi burn is to acquire the taste. Start adding wasabi to your regular dishes like rolls, sandwiches, etc. After a few weeks, you will be able to consume wasabi without a burn or sting.
7. Stopping The Burn
What if you have sampled wasabi without following any of these tricks, and now your mouth burns? What then? Is there any way for instant relief?
The vinegar’s acidic property and the mayonnaise’s fatty content will do the magic. These contents will neutralize the spicey impact of this green condiment and offer you quick relief.
Why does wasabi burn your nose? The one-word answer is allyl isothiocyanate. This chemical compound triggers trigeminal nerves in your nose and sends pain signals to your brain.
But luckily, the hot burn does not last for long, and you get back to normal soon. However, you can avoid these stings by following the tricks of eating wasabi. For example, exhaling with the mouth, having a beverage before sampling wasabi, etc.