These 3 ingredients cause numbness in your mouth. Here’s why

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When it comes to the organoleptic aspects of food, we mostly consider characteristics such as taste, texture and temperature. But something we rarely talk about is the physical feeling it leaves in us, and when we do, it’s usually in relation to spiciness. It’s a sensation we don’t talk about much numbness.

Very few foods have this painkiller effect, but they exist and, when used properly, like all great ingredients, can be absolutely delicious. Some of these are readily available, while at least one is a little trickier to grasp, but each is stunning in its own way.

Sichuan pepper

Sichuan (or Sichuan) peppers are a commonly used spice in the Sichuan Province of China. In fact, it is not a form of pepper or chili pepper, but the peel of the spiny ash shrub seed (which belongs to the citrus family). We toss the seed itself as it is not worth eating. The shell is usually reddish brown, sometimes pink in color, and looks like a miniature Pac-Man.

I never ate Sichuan pepper until I was an adult, and I still kick myself for not trying it out sooner. It has a vibrant citrus peel-like taste, followed by a sensation I would describe as tingling, and others call it numbness (though not as numb as a trip to the dental office). Popular dishes containing Sichuan pepper include spicy cooking soup, laziji (often called Chongqing chicken) and dan dan noodles.

Have you tried anything that is seasoned with five spices? Then there was already Sichuan pepper, although the taste isn’t quite the first and centerpiece in this blend. (The five-spice powder consists of cinnamon, fennel, cloves, star anise and Sichuan pepper.)

Combined with an effective chili pepper, we get a spice known as mala. Mala is a combination of the words “numb” and “spicy” in Chinese, and this is something everyone should try at some point. Due to the numbing effect of Sichuan peppers, it can handle more spices than usual. Where he was once shy, he will be the champion of the conquest of spices and will return if he wants even more food from the food seasoned in the malt. Honestly, it’s awesome.

Why is Sichuan pepper numb?

But how exactly does this all work? Sichuan pepper contains a compound called hydroxy-alpha-sansool (short for sanshoo). Smithsonian Magazine he explains that sansool does not quite work like capsaicin, the compound that causes the effects of spicy foods. Sanshool makes it feel like there is constant tactile stimulation while eating, due to the buzzing feeling that many people report after consuming Sichuan pepper.

I asked too Subha Ranjan Das, an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon Universityto gain more insight into sansool. Says:

There are many sansoles – Japanese peppers have at least four sansoles (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and two hydroxy sansols (alpha and beta), the main component of which is for numbness and responsible for numbness. anesthetic effect of hydroxy-alpha-sansool.

While sansols trigger the same thermal receptor as capsaicin to some extent (making them feel slightly spicy or hot), hydroxy-alpha-sansol may also have a particular effect on other receptors that activate palpable neurons, resulting in an irritating effect.

A neuroscience study A colleague from University College London found that the sensation from eating Sichuan pepper occurs in Meissner’s cell bodies, the tactile receptors responsible for transmitting the sensation of subtle vibrations to the hairless parts of the body, such as the mouth. The researchers rubbed their lower lips with Sichuan pepper while using a small vibration mechanism on people’s fingers and comparing the feeling. They have found that people consistently say that the 50 Hz vibration is closest to what they feel on their lips, which is essentially equivalent to 50 tiny pulses per second.

Das also notes that not all varieties of Sichuan pepper work equally. “There are different flavors and flavors, and they usually come from different sources, varieties, and ages,” he says. “Japanese sansho peppers are green and citrus, while red Sichuan pepper is more floral. These will all have different amounts of sanatoriums, so some may be more pungent and some more numb.

Buzz buttons

A long time ago, I had the opportunity to try an ingredient called the buzz button over a delicious dinner. A small yellow flower bud sat on top of the pot, and after I chewed it (it tasted grassy, ​​herbaceous), the whole thing felt like it was electrified by a continuous shock. I’ve never had one before.

Buzzing buttons, sometimes referred to as a toothache plant or Sichuan button (not related, but so called because of a similar buzzing sensation), Acmella oleracea plant. It is native to tropical regions such as South America, Africa and parts of Asia.

What is the “buzz” in the buzzer buttons?

The chemical responsible for numbness is called spilanthol. A paper appeared at ScienceDirect spilantol is described as “a bioactive compound found in many different plants used as traditional therapies around the world”.

“Its leaves and flowers have sensory properties (pungent, tingling, numb, mouth-watering), making them a popular spice and ingredient in many Brazilian dishes,” the paper explains. Das points out that the chemical structure of spilanthol in buzz buttons is very similar to that of Sichuan peppers. This means that the tingling and numbing feelings will be quite similar between the two.

Due to its anti-numbness properties, spilantol has been used for toothache. It is extracted from buzz buttons and converted into a concentrate called jambu oleoresin, which is used for flavoring and therapeutic purposes. The Canadian National Center for Environmental Health has a pretty interesting document on the buzz buttons area of ​​use.

You won’t find buzzing buttons in grocery stores – you can pretty much just buy them online at specialty retailers. For a short time, bartenders and chefs used them as a novel ingredient; Aroma reported the trend still in 2015.


While cloves are not primarily known for their numbing properties, they contain a compound called eugenol. Eugenol is the main fragrance and flavor of clove oil, but it also has numbing properties. Like spilanthol in the buttons, eugenol has traditionally been used to treat dental problems.

“Eugenol from cloves can have an effect on the receptor, causing a warm feeling and a tingling and numbing sensation (although this is quite a large amount, say when using clove oil), and they have an anesthetic effect,” says Das. It is an interesting fact that eugenol desensitizes the effects of capsaicin.

Clove cigarettes (oh, my student age), which come from Indonesia, consist of cloves, tobacco and other ingredients. The eugenol in the clove has allowed it to take quite large doses as it cools the upper airways during suction. Note the past tense: the FDA banned clove cigarettes In 2009, along with other flavored cigarettes except menthol.

In the amount you get by consuming cloves in, say, pumpkin-spicy foods, you won’t feel the intoxicating effect. But you can get clove oil from specialty retailers as well as grocery stores in India or the Middle East and smear it with it if your teeth hurt badly. It doesn’t solve the problem (go to the dentist!), But it can be a little relieved until you sit in that chair.

If you are curious about the mute effect of these ingredients, I highly recommend that you buy a Sichuan dish. In terms of prepared foods, this is the most accessible (not just for the sake of experimentation I would put down a bunch of cloves). The spicier the Sichuan food, the better you ask me. Enjoy delicious, numbing culinary happiness.


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