Wasabi--the infamously fiery green paste on every sushi platter, is being studied closer than ever for its potentially painkilling properties.

The wasabi receptor, formally known as TRPA1, is a pain receptor which sends sensory signals to the brain. It is similar to the capsaicin receptor, that alarm that goes off in your mouth when you bite into a hot pepper.
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have successfully isolated the structure and plan to investigate how it can yield to advances in pain research thanks to a technique called single-particle electron cryomicroscopy or cryo-EM. This will allow advances in how to block pain signals, a green light for pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs based on the function of the wasabi receptor under this powerful imaging technology.

TRPA1 receptors may be even be the culprit for itching caused by pathogens such as poison ivy, and the majority of them are located in the nose. A Japanese company, Seems, has recently figured out a way to wake up deaf patients during a fire alarm through the use of the wasabi smell, caused by the compound allyl isothiocyanate, which is the technical name for the sinus-clearing compound. During tests, allyl isothiocyanate proved more efficient in awakening patients than rotten eggs or peppermint.

Interestingly enough, most Americans have never tasted real wasabi, as this finicky crop only grows with clean running water and in specific conditions. Mock wasabi, usually made from horseradish, is a relative of real wasabi, but each has compounds the other does not, such as sulfur and 2-phenylethyl isothiocyanate. Growing operation Pacific Coast Wasabi is attempting to introduce authentic wasabi into the US Market, but at a hefty price--half a pound costs $70. It might be a while before we can affordably take wasabi pills to replace opiates here in the US.