comfortably numb

Why Sichuan Pepper Makes Your Mouth Buzz

Cumin lamb at Cafe China.

Cumin lamb at Cafe China.Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Turns out it's a weirdo molecule called hydroxy-alpha-sanshool in Sichuan pepper that essentially grooves out within the touch receptor cells in our lips and mouths when we ingest it. The interaction causes cells to pass that sensory data as tactile stimuli along to the brain, which helps explain why you might feel like your mouth has been jackhammered next time you visit Mission Chinese Food or Café China. [Smithsonian via Fushia Dunlop/Twitter, Related, Related]

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