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Wasabi hot vs. pepper hot

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  • Ruth Lafler Aug 30, 2001 05:49 PM
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Over on the LA board, we started to get into the difference between the "hot" sensations of wasabi and peppers.

I know what makes peppers "hot" and that the hot sensation is basically an irritation of the tissues the capsicum comes in contact with (including your hands, eyes, etc. if you aren't careful), which then triggers cleansing responses (runny nose, watery eyes).

But what is the mechanism of the explosive sensation of wasabi going up your nose, into your sinuses?

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  1. hmmm. interesting. Hope someone comes up with the science on this one. To me wasabi is of course similar to horseradish, but also to eucalyptous and menthols.

    As a youth I enjoyed taking a handful of eucalyptous leave from a tree in California, rub between my palms and snort. Cheap (when in season) legal high. :)

    4 Replies
    1. re: wray

      Yeah, Wray, I love the eucalyptus high too -- I sometimes keep some in my bathroom so hot showers turn into scented steam baths. Don't think wasabi is directly related, but I know what you mean.

      Here's a really interesting link to more wasabi info. Maybe more technical than we need (or want), but the potential medicinal effects discussed are fascinating. More reasons to eat sushi!

      Link: http://www.freshwasabi.com/wasabi_tec...

      1. re: Dennison

        whoops, my bad, looks like the wasabi we're all familiar with isn't the wasabi discussed in the link I posted. To quote from another page at that site:

        "Wasabi powder is available in most grocery stores and is also used in most sushi restaurants in the U.S. The powder is not real Wasabi at all. The customary ingredients are horseradish powder (dried and ground regular horseradish), mustard powder, cornstarch and artificial color (blue and yellow). It's convenient and inexpensive but tastes nothing like real Wasabi."

        Interesting, makes me want to try out the real stuff!

        1. re: Dennison

          Saveur did an article on the genuine article a year or two back and mentioned a US grower and shipper. Here's the URL:

          Link: http://www.freshwasabi.com

        2. re: Dennison

          Thanks for a most informative link--fascinating that wasabi may have application in heart attack prevention, dental decay prevention and help in asthma. Who knew? Plus it's cool you can grow your own at home. Now that's a one of a kind item to bring to the next neighborhood potluck!

      2. j
        Janet A. Zimmerman

        I'm not sure of the exact mechanism, but wasabi and horseradish are both part of the mustard family, and form various mustard oils when the cells are crushed. Since mustard oils are extrememly volatile, all three condiments affect the nasal passages (in this characteristic, they are similar to onions and garlic). That volatility also accounts for the fact that the heat of wasabi, hot mustard and horseradish disappears so quickly.

        Although pure mustard oil will irritate the skin, I think (not sure about this one) that the oils aren't present in high enough concentrations in the condiments we eat to do that.