The science behind the burning sensation caused by Wasabi, and how to ease it

Wasabi burning one’s brain is a common misconception. People tend to attribute the burning sensation they get in their brain to eating wasabi, but is this truly the case?

Contrary to what most people may think, wasabi does not burn the brain; instead, the burning sensation is felt in the sinuses, which then transmits pain or headache to the brain.

This article explores what wasabi is, how it affects the brain, and possible solutions to reduce its effects.

What is Wasabi?

Wasabi is a Japanese food condiment usually eaten alongside sushi or sashimi.

Its roots come from a plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family, consisting of other plants such as radishes, horseradishes, and mustard.

According to Japanese culture, Wasabi is highly beneficial to the human body and contains nutrients such as Vitamin C and other antibacterial properties.

Why does Wasabi burn the brain?

Wasabi does not burn the brain; instead, the brain receives a stimulus from the burning sensation in the sinuses that manifest as pain or headache.

When you eat wasabi, your nasal cavity bears the brunt of the burning sensation you feel, and because of the pain in the brain, people tend to think that the burning sensation occurs in the brain.

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What happens to the brain when you eat Wasabi?

The brain goes into full defense mode when eating wasabi because of the chemical irritant from eating wasabi.

This happens because of the reaction your sinuses feel, which sends a signal to the brain to protect itself from potential harm.

Is Wasabi good for your brain?

There are speculations that wasabi can be good for the brain, especially since it helps reduce inflammation and neurodegeneration in animals, but this is largely unconfirmed in humans.

However, it provides antibacterial properties, and until further studies, this, for now, is the only possible benefit for human beings.

Can you build a tolerance for Wasabi burn?

Yes, you can. In the same way you eat other foods or spices and get used to the sensations, you can also get used to what wasabi induces as you consume a lot of them.

However, because wasabi is not a food or condiment commonly eaten like other spicy foods, many people never develop a tolerance for it.

How to prevent a burning sensation when eating wasabi

Several helpful tips can help prevent wasabi burns. Here they are:

Don’t consume too much

When eating wasabi, you mustn’t consume too much at once.

Start by taking a small portion and go on from there, little by little, until you are done with it. If you take in too much, you will experience a burning sensation, making your sinuses react.

Have some water handy 

Having a drink by your side is best whenever you eat wasabi.

Take a sip intermittently while eating; it will help reduce the burning sensation.

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Dilute wasabi

You can reduce the burning sensation by diluting wasabi with something else. For instance, you could mix wasabi with soy sauce.

Remember that doing this may change the soy sauce and the wasabi flavor. Also, it is seen as a “culinary taboo” by Japanese chefs who claim that it reduces the aroma and taste of wasabi. 

But then, it’s up to you to decide which you can live with – maintaining the taste or enduring the burning sensation.

Take apple cider vinegar 

You could take apple cider vinegar to help with the burning sensation. Some studies show that apple cider vinegar helps whenever one takes wasabi. So, it’s worth trying. 

If you are allergic to apple cider vinegar, drink water.

How to reduce the effects of a Wasabi burn

To lessen the effect of wasabi burn, rinse your mouth with water, or take in a reasonable quantity of sugar or ginger.

Also, ensure your hands do not come in contact with your eyes, nose, or any sensitive body part after eating wasabi.

If you inadvertently get your hands on any sensitive parts of your body, wash them right away with water, so you don’t get an unpleasant sensation.

If the burning sensation is unbearable, take over-the-counter medication, or consult your doctor.

Can consuming too much Wasabi kill you?

No, consuming an excessive amount of wasabi will not kill you, but it will, however, cause extreme pain and discomfort.

You will most likely develop digestive and respiratory issues as the body tries to protect itself from the burning sensation. 

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Wasabi is an excellent food condiment that does not burn the brain but affects the sinuses and the pain eventually gets to the brain. Use the tips highlighted in this guide to prevent that from happening and you should have no issues eating wasabi.

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