Pungent (sharp, biting, acrid) foods stimulate the trigeminal nerve
|The summary of “Tweaking The Trigeminal : Pungent Foods” that follows is tentative and is meant to suggest to tone, content, and emphasis of the book. The basic premise of the book is that eaters appear to enjoy pungent food, which causes an intense (and somewhat painful) stimulation of nerves located in the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose. Pungency, aroma (smell), and flavor are apparently separate and distinct phenomena, which can vary independently of each other.
Pungent (sharp, biting, acrid) materials do not seem to stimulate the traditional taste sensors, the taste buds, which are sensitive to sweet, salt, bitter, and sour. Pungent materials stimulate free nerve endings that are located in the mucosa of the mouth and nasal passages. These free nerve endings are called nociceptors (from the latin nocere—to hurt). These free nerve endings are part of the trigeminal nerve, which is also the nerve that innervates tooth pulp and is responsible for the pain of a toothache. These nociceptors normally sense heat and pressure. In contrast to the sensors in the nose and tongue, the nociceptors are located below (about the thickness of two sheets of paper) the surface of the mucosa. This is the reason that it takes several seconds for the pungent (hot) sensation to start after taking a bite of a pepper. This is also the reason why the pungent sensation takes seconds to dissipate. Stimulation of these fibers probably triggers the tearing, nasal discharge, etc., that occur when some people eat pungent foods.
This book will be divided into two parts. In the first chapter of the first part, I will describe, in non-technical terms, the trigeminal nerve. It is the largest of the cranial nerves (so called because the located mainly in cranium or skull). I will describe where the trigeminal is located in the brain and what structures it innervates. I will also describe what happens when one of these structures is stimulated.
In the second part, I will devote a chapter to each of the popular pungent foods: 1) black pepper (Piper nigrum), 2) red pepper (Capsicum species), 3) ginger (Zingiber officinale), 4) mustards (Brassica species ), 5) horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), 6) wasabi (Wasabia japonica), 7) the onion family (Allium species), 8) grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), 9) the Sichuan pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans), and 10) sansho (Zanthoxylum piperitum). Each chapter will contain an image of the spice and the plant that it comes from, a description of the active principle (the chemical that causes the “bite”) and several classic recipes that show off the spice’s particular characteristic “bite”. In a separate chapter, I will discuss how the bubbles in carbonized drinks are also sensed as pungent.
I have taught human physiology and psychology to more than 2000 students with widely varying backgrounds and abilities. I have professional publications in more than 25 different refereed scientific journals, including studies of pain, and eight books.
If you are interested in this current project, I can provide a more detailed outline, a prospectus, and sample chapter. I can also supply a copy of my resume, copies of my magazine and scientific journal articles, and a list of my published books.