burning mouth syndrome, burning tongue, wasabi crisis

If you have never had sushi, you might be surprised at the very sharp taste of the wasabi that is a frequent accompaniment. It can hit your nasal passages and sinuses with a wallop. Is there anything you can do when faced with a wasabi crisis?

Unexpected Wasabi Crisis:

Q. I recently visited an unfamiliar restaurant. When my order came, I thought they had added a dollop of decorative eggplant to my plate. Putting the entire teaspoonful into my mouth, I immediately realized it was wasabi.

I began coughing and my face turned bright red. I ran to the bathroom to spit it out. An employee asked if there was anything she could get me. I immediately asked for vinegar, remembering that it neutralized hot, spicy food. I got immediate relief from gargling the cider vinegar.

What Is Wasabi?

A. Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) is made from the stems of a plant that grows in Japan. Because it is so scarce and valuable, some of the wasabi that is found in restaurants or supermarkets is actually created from horseradish and hot mustard with food coloring to make it look green.

Others have made your mistake and swallowed too much of this condiment. Because spicy mustard and horseradish can taste extremely hot, too much all at once can take your breath away. Your gargling trick might save someone else from also experiencing a bad reaction.

Wasabi itself triggers TRP (transient receptor potential) channels in sensory nerves. Specifically, it activates TRPA1 and TRPV1 (Takaya et al, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Dec. 23, 2015). TRPV1 is the same target affected by capsaicin, the hot stuff in hot chilis (Gees et al, Molecular Pharmacology, Sep. 2013).

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  1. Jay

    A very simple solution. We’re all exhaling through the nose as we eat. That’s when the wasabi vapors cause havoc. Try inhaling air through the nose and exhale through the mouth. You have to remember to do it. No more problems for me.

  2. Jay F

    I wish I could try the real Wasabi, has anyone tried it and how was it?

  3. Rosemary
    Matawan, NJ

    I wish there was a “share” button to post this on Facebook.l

  4. Diane

    Would wasabi or horseradish work to relieve leg cramps like mustard does?

    • Terry Graedon

      Very probably. You may only be able to find horseradish, though, unless you are in Japan. If you do try it, send us a report.

  5. Isabel

    Do these hot-hot-hot spices cause any permanent damage?

  6. Karen

    Re. wasabi relief. I have found that counteracting the “burn” with a mixture of sugar and lemon juice (both available on restaurant tables) on a spoon and allowing the mixture to roll around my mouth works beautifully – stimulating the other taste buds is the reason and also the reason why drinking water doesn’t work.

  7. John S
    Manchester, NJ

    I have used Milk to quiet the burn of hot foods.

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