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Wasabi vs. Chili Peppers

March 15, 2018

A listener asks: Why does wasabi’s kick disappear so quickly while the heat of chili peppers can last much longer?



What’s up with wasabi? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you eat sushi, you’ve probably braved the searing hot taste of wasabi, the bright green condiment that’s served along with the popular Japanese snack. If so, you also know that wasabi’s kick lasts only a few seconds while the heat of chili peppers can burn your mouth for a long time. We asked University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist Diana Bautista for an explanation. She says while wasabi contains volatile compounds that break down quickly in the mouth…

DIANA BAUTISTA (University of California at San Francisco):

…chili peppers have more fat soluble compounds that easily penetrate the cells of the tongue and activate more pain receptors than wasabi does. So that creates a longer lasting, more painful burning sensation.


And if you have a burning science question, call us a 1-800-why-isit. If we use your question, we’ll send you a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard