Wasabi, also known as Japanese horseradish, is standard fare with every plate of sushi. However, consuming even a little of this green condiment can feel like a kick in the face.
It can cause a burning sensation to travel from your mouth all the way to your nasal cavities. You may even feel a tingle in your scalp.
So, why does wasabi burn your nose? This is a common question from many sushi lovers who know all too well that consuming wasabi packs quite a punch.
Read on to learn more, as understanding wasabi better could significantly enhance your enjoyment of Japanese food.
Why Does Wasabi Burn Your Nose?
Wasabi contains large quantities of a chemical compound known as allyl isothiocyanate. Japanese horseradish produces this compound as a way of protecting itself from animals.
When consumed, the chemical produces vapor that travels from the mouth, through the nasal passage, and into the nasal cavities.
The sensation can make you feel like you just got punched in the nose. Luckily, the feeling dissipates quite quickly.
The nerve receptors in our bodies that respond to wasabi are concentrated in the nasal passages. They are why you can immediately feel that bite of your dragon roll in your nose.
When these receptors contact the vapor produced by wasabi, they send a distress signal to the brain. The body, in turn, responds by producing the stinging sensation that you feel.
It might even cause you to tear, much to the concern of other diners. However, the receptors do not bind very tightly to the vapor, and the effect of wasabi evaporates fast.
A whiff of the allyl isothiocyanate in wasabi is powerful enough to wake you from your sleep. Therefore, it’s advisable to give this condiment the respect it deserves and consume it in moderation.
Does Wasabi Really Clear Your Sinuses?
Consuming wasabi will cause you to cough or sneeze. Tears will probably also be running down your face.
This overall effect of a runny nose can make it feel like the condiment has cleared your sinuses, which is not valid. Wasabi has actually been found to increase nasal congestion instead.
Sinuses get blocked as a result of inflamed mucus membranes. While some people believe ingesting spicy food will clear the blockage, the opposite happens. The congestion worsens.
Eating wasabi will probably initially flare your nostrils, allowing a greater intake of air. That’s what makes some people feel like their sinuses have been cleared.
Hot dishes like wasabi increase mucus production, leading to congestion of the nasal passageways.
Is Wasabi Bad for Your Nose?
The burning sensation experienced when consuming wasabi can be very uncomfortable.
You may look at this evidence and conclude that consuming wasabi can’t possibly be good for your nose.
The chemical compound allyl isothiocyanate produced by the spice is responsible for the harsh effect on the nasal cavity.
Although it doesn’t feel like it, the chemical has very low toxicity and is not carcinogenic.
Wasabi is safe when consumed in small amounts and won’t adversely affect your nose or nasal passages. Even that tingling of the scalp that you might feel will quickly pass.
Benefits of Wasabi
As the name suggests, Japanese horseradish is a plant that is native to Japan. It’s mainly cultivated for its root and ground up to make the spice we know as wasabi.
Besides burning your nose and adding flavor to your sushi, wasabi has several properties that are beneficial to your health.
Wasabi contains compounds known as Isothiocyanates (ITCs) that lend antibacterial effects.
Wasabi’s ITCs have been shown to be effective against two of the most prevalent food poisoning bacteria.
The leading cause of peptic ulcers is a bacteria known as H. Pylori. Peptic ulcers can, in turn, lead to inflammation of the stomach lining and even cancer.
Studies suggest that wasabi can be effective against H. Pylori, protecting the stomach from peptic ulcers.
Inflammation occurs when your body responds to injury or infection. It’s the immune system’s way of trying to heal the body.
However, an overactive inflammation response can lead to cancer and heart disease.
Wasabi has been found to have properties that work against this heightened inflammation response.
Promotion of Weight Loss
Research shows that wasabi contains substances that inhibit the growth and development of fat cells.
That’s a good reason as any to give this spicy condiment a try.
Foods that require a high temperature to prepare have been found to contain a chemical known as acrylamide. Grilling and frying are the main culprits for developing this compound in food.
Acrylamide has been linked to certain cancers, including ovarian and kidney cancer. The ITCs in wasabi have been found to hinder acrylamide formation in the body.
Promotion of Bone Health
p-hydroxycinnamic acid, a substance found in wasabi, can aid bone formation.
It also decreases the destruction of bones in the body.
Promotion of Brain Health
Inflammation can affect the brain, bringing about conditions like Parkinson’s disease. The ITC compounds active in wasabi can help prevent these degenerative disorders.
A word of caution. Although scientists are making inroads on the health benefits of wasabi, a lot more research is needed to verify these initial findings.
In addition, despite the advantages indicated, there isn’t much information on how effective wasabi is when used as medication.
That said, the spice is safe when used to flavor food. Just be careful to take it in small amounts as it can cause stomach discomfort and heartburn.
The irritation caused by the wasabi can result in acid reflux. The burning sensation the spice generates when consumed can also be pretty unpleasant.
The wasabi burn is undoubtedly a very unpleasant experience. The stinging of the nose and nasal cavities can leave one feeling like some real damage has occurred.
However, Japanese horseradish has been commercially produced for over 60 years and is safe for human consumption.
So why does wasabi burn the nose, you ask? Because the chemical compounds it contains have a profound effect on our nasal passages. However, that effect is temporary and is not dangerous.