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Slurp this into your mouth and feel the heat drill to your brain.

Similar in taste to western horseradish, Japanese wasabi is familiar to most as the spicy lime green paste that’s mixed with soy sauce to create a pungent dip in which to dunk sushi pieces or sashimi. Originally made from the grated roots of a plant native to the Far East, wasabi paste is nowadays mostly made from a powder and sold in a tube.

Besides the rich, pungent flavour, wasabi has proven antibacterial properties. Wasabi may reduce the risk of food poisoning which is why it has traditionally accompanied raw fish. It is also said to provide protection against tooth decay, to combat certain forms of cancer and to detoxify the liver.

The hotness of wasabi is different from the burning sensation caused by the capsaicin contained in chili peppers. The burning is soothed by water and doesn’t last as long, as it soon turns into a sweet aftertaste. But it’s not necessarily any less uncomfortable. Wasabi-heat jumps from the tongue, heads straight to the nasal passage and, if used in appropriately exorbitant amounts, feels like it will drill through all the way to your brain.

This has led Japanese scientists to utilise wasabi in another innovation. In 2008, a Japanese corporation announced plans to produce a fire alarm for the deaf. Upon detecting smoke, the alarm sprays the room with a synthesised wasabi compound, which wakes up even those who might have slept through a conventional audio alarm. The only problem is that people suffering from a stuffy nose seem to be immune to the alarm. But you should definitely remove its battery before searing any Cajun blackened fish, unless you enjoy it with a taste of wasabi.

Matti Koskinen