Wasabi Peas: A Word of Caution

A Public Service Announcement:

Recently I was given, by my loving family, a can of Wasabi Peas. They meant it as a joke, and here’s the background to the joke:

When I was in Okinawa with the USMC, a few of us decided that since we were technically in Japan, we should have some sushi. Really touristy, but real just the same. Therefore we walked a few miles to the nearest storefront food joint, and in the great tradition of mixing cultures ordered dinner by pointing at the menu and smiling a lot.

So, there’s three brave USMC flyers and the doc (odd group: over/differently-trained officers in an Infantry battalion) and we’re staring at different plates of variously-cooked things-from-the-sea. (I should say, at this point, that my idea of seafood is Long John Silver’s, breaded and deep fried). I was not the most daring of the orderers.

And, we have food, and some Japanese beer, and a sense of adventure borne of unusual surroundings and occasions. I chose one of the less-scary (from a cooked-uncooked point of view) dishes on purpose. And, I’m looking at some recognizable and unrecognizable bits all at once.

I take some small comfort in the recognizable things: beer, some deep-fried calamari, and avacado. So, a forkful of avacado and some calamari go into the mouth.

Until that exact moment in time I didn’t know your sinuses could melt, or the inside of your eyes sweat. I didn’t know pain, and had no idea the extent to which my tongue would go to get out of my head when things get ugly. I sensed more than felt the lining of my nose sear off and fall out, and it would have looked scary had I been able to focus after forcing my eyes open, which I could not. My sinuses were now trying to escape by leaping out of my skin, through my brain, and the lungs, warned by the treacherous spinal cord, decided the best course was to stop breathing to protect themselves.

My only conscious decision was to drown the entire forkful with the liter or so of beer I’d purchased, and I wasn’t in a half-measures mood then. I now have beer on my shirt and face, mixed with snot, drool and tears, and parts of my nose and sinus lining.

I found out later I was making a noise associated with dying animals, which attracted the attention of my fellow-diners. They looked upon me with alarm, and it was then I realized I was the only one there who knew CPR, and thought about the irony of being the one who needed medical care.

Slowly, the pain ebbed, and I was only modestly incapacitated. Control of my vocal cords was temporarily granted me, and I said “All I had was the calamari and the avacado”.

The uproarious laughter of my cohorts wasn’t the least bit soothing, and should have alerted me that I’d done something stupid, but at the moment I was still trying to keep from sobbing in front of my brave Marine colleagues.

“That’s not avacado” is one of the phrases I never want to hear again, as it began to tell the tale of my self-induced misery. I grew up in West Texas and was innocent of Wasabi, the ‘Japanese horseradish’, the ingestion of which results in, well, the above.

I lived through it, and enjoyed telling the sanitized tale to my family on my return. For humor, they recently bought me a can of the aforementioned Wasabi peas.

I now have a taste for wasabi, though in smaller-than-forkful doses. I like the wasabi peas, but here’s the warning: both ends of the digestive tract are affected by the wasabi-effect. Now you know. Plan accordingly.


  1. OMG!! The same thing happened to my dad!! I *LOVE* wasabi. So much so, that if I have takeout or leftovers from a sushi restaurant, I make sure they give me a nice big hunk, not some little pellet.

    In one visit to my parents’ house, I came home to a very disturbed father. Apparently I had left a large order of wasabi in the fridge, and my dad was looking for avocado to accompany something or other. His description of the bite he took was not unlike yours, except he was alone and probably let loose.

    This was too funny. Thanks for sharing! (is there an emergency protocol for wasabi overdose? heh)

  2. hehehe.. good description of what I’ve experienced first-hand.

    Glad to hear all is going well and you still have your mucous membranes!

    Jonethan De.

  3. I lived in Japan for a year, much north of the base, up near Kyoto. The Janaese waiters called us “guy-jean” which is a nasty name for foriegner, all the while smiling innocently. If I had known the translation of the word at the time, I would have never eaten the food they had served me. But alas, I did, and I swear they put extra wasabi in just for laughs. I too became a Sapporo drinker very quickly. In fact at that time I would have gladly slammed my whole carafe of steaming saki to find relief. Excellent description. I laughed out loud.

  4. Oh!!! I couldn’t stop laughing as I read your post! I’m so sorry! I completely understand the experience, and could just about feel the sensations as you described them.

    My son is a chef, and we grow literally dozens of varieties of hot peppers for his use … some are as mild as a Jalapeno, and some sting your hands from just holding them (Puriras.)

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a huge bite of something that was only “zingy” the last time he made it, and find myself needing CPR as the rest of my body tries to get away from my mouth! Don’t get me wrong, I like hot food … but there’s hot, and then there’s HOT!

    Be glad the Wasabi (which I love, in small quantities) didn’t give you a case of instant hiccups on top of everything else. That’s one of my reactions to “too much, too hot,” and it adds some mighty unpleasant effects … >;o)

  5. Ah…I too mistakenly thought the “green stuff” was avacado upon my first sushi experience years ago…I still can’t eat the stuff!

  6. So intelligent, yet….

  7. Once again, you have no doubt saved lives with your wisdom. Those little peas are good. Taken in small doses. Your description of your restaurant epiphany took me back to my year in Vietnam, which ended in Thailand; in particular in the hootch of a young woman who prepared a meal for me and a fellow doc. Deliberately leaving out the hot stuff and putting it only on her portion, she gave us the “mild” meal. I don’t recall for sure, but I doubt there were any sphincters that retained function, if only for a couple of minutes.

  8. I had to send this to my brother in law who went through the same experience a few years ago. In his case, he was on a business trip, surrounded by Japanese businessmen, who pretended like they did not notice he was gasping for air like a fish out of water: you know, the usual far-eastern politeness that dictates one must not embarrass one’s guest by pointing out his shortcomings.

  9. hehehe..cool. The spousal unit loves those things. I don’t like them at all. My Marine won’t eat them either. Now, we did send the Marine some spicy hot squid..in an individually wrapped package. Last I heard, he handed that off to another Marine. They are not the best of friends. ;-)

    Semper Fi!

  10. Ohhhh, it’s been too long since I visited your blog–and this was a great post to come back to! Thanks for sharing . . .lol, I laughed so hard I cried! Thankfully, I was warned about wasabi ahead of time . . .phew!

  11. This reminds me of my own wasabi experience last February. I had to drown it with lots of water, but it didn’t help the searing pain that went straight up to my head. Utterly painful! :)

  12. If they got the wasabi peas from Hapi Snacks (most likely (look for a guy with a drum on the can)) you might want to try the Mixed Crackers, it has all sorts of good Japanies stuff in it, to include some Wasabi Peas :D I love the damn things, and always have a few cans in the house/office/car/friends house. They are like crack to me:P, with out the beifit of the weight loss :(.

  13. Jim in Texas says:

    The habanero peppers are the hottest peppers in the world. I sometime use habanero peppers when I grill. I just put them off to the side and lower the hood to let the peppers flavor what ever I’m cooking.

    Its a good way to get some spicy-ness into your meat without running the risk of a lawsuit that would occur if you actually used the peppers directly.

    I was entertaining a software business partner from Canada and he brought his lead programmer. I was doing some rather nice hamburgers on the grill with the peppers when the programmer asked about them. I told him they were very hot and before I could tell him what I used them for he popped one into his mouth and began to chew.

    Seeing his reaction in hindsight I can chuckle about it but at the time I thought he was going to die. He stopped breathing (simlar to your story) and I kept think how in the hell I was going to do CPR.

    The business partner kept looking at him and I could see that he was already convinced that his lead programmer was going to die.

    He eventually recovered and I haven’t seen him since. I do recall that the next piece of software I got from him was pretty buggy

  14. AuntSusie says:

    Lo and behold, guess what caught my eye at the Tom Thumb today? The prettiest green and white balls about 3/8 diameter. OOOOOO – those look good, wonder what they are! Wasabi peas! What’s with “white and green”?

  15. Count me in with the rest of the wasabi survivors. Only I am quite the horseradish eater, and I understood that wasabi was like that. I wanted sushi and the wasabi smelled lovely.

    I was in a Asian/American restaurant and downed cup after cup of tea, brought by a sympathetic waitress.

    I was sick from the wasabi cleanout effect and giddy from the caffeine all afternoon.

  16. I haven’t laughed that hard in days….it hit the spot. Ok…wiping the tears of laughter out of my eyes now….

  17. David Harmon says:

    IIRC, the traditional counter for “wasabi overdose” is sliced cucumber. I know capescin is fat-soluble (thus all the yogurt sauces and drinks in Indian cuisine) but I recall wasabi has a different active ingredient.

  18. t comfyshoes says:

    I’ve had the wasabi experience from the other side of the chopsticks – took my mom out for her first time eating sushi, and before I can stop her, she picks up the entire blob and pops it in her mouth. You described the aftermath much better than I could.

    Similar thing happened to my dad somewhere in SE Asia – he tells me there was rice, and all sorts of sauces, and he put big globs of all the sauces on the rice. Oh, and then the only non-alcohol beverage they had was ginger beer. With real ginger. He says that was the only time he’s been tempted not to abstain from alcohol.

  19. Chastened Cajun says:

    Sorry to see so many fellow victims!!

    Like you I was in a restaurant, but in Washington. I also thought in the dim light that I was getting guacamole, which looked like the only thing that I didn’t consider “bait.” Now I LOVE spicy food, but was not even remotely prepared for what began happening. I know it is rude to reach across the table, or take other guests items. However, in view of the ongoing emergency, I unabashedly confiscated and consumed every beverage within reach in a vain attempt to quell the atomic detonation in my mouth.

    I will still eat wasabi, but only in small controlled doses.

    Anyone want to try some nice Japanese guacamole????

  20. Jen N. RN says:

    OH MAN!!!! I had a simular experience with the sushi from the cafeteria. I thought it didn’t come with Wasabi… Oh but it did… It was stuck to the bottom of the first piece I ate. I thought my head was going to explode!!!! That was the last time I bought that shushi!!!

    To funny!!!!

  21. The local Mexican/Chinese restaurant has a sign above the Wasabi.
    It says “Wasabi es no Guacamole. Es MUY CALIENTE!”

  22. Haha I once ate the the whole glob of wasabi they left on my sushi plate in one shot so I hear where your’e coming from… I personally love wasabi peas though – i guess the ones I have doesnt pack as much punch – I get them from http://www.jdfinefoods.com/nuts/wasabi_green_peas.htm

  23. just dont drink cold water after eating a fair bit of wasabi….it makes the burn worse lol. i was a kid and thought it was an avacado slice…spit it out quick so i didnt get the full burn effect

  24. I tried some wasabi beans for the first time today. Let me tell you, they are so hot i thought that I may need to call the fire department. ( not really ) they are extremely hot, however after my first taste I immediately spit it out. I was holding it in a napkin & decided to try it again. I guess being in the napkin took off the outer spiciness… I love the taste after that…

  25. Similar reactions happened to me. I have always been a fan of “hot” but wasabi blew me away. However, I currently eat wasabi peas with amount control. I have found that I can clear my sinuses with a few wasabi peas quite quickly and they do not interfere with meds that I take like other sinus products. Go figure, maybe the Japanese had it right from the start, good taste and medical remedy all in one. Stranger things have happened.

  26. Preston Mcgwire says:

    Great post. YOu make it seem so easy to share your experiences. I wish I could do as well in sharing on my blog. I just got it started and sometimes feel stuck on what to share or if it is the right thing to share. what to do?

    [GD – The answer is not to spam my blog trolling for links…yours was deleted.]