The whys and wherefores of burning your mouth

Eating piping hot food often has the devastating side effect of impairing your mouth, thanks to our perpetual impatience.

It’s the event that’s guaranteed to ruin a meal from the outset, in a moment where hastiness and hunger collide in a culinary mea culpa. You, the eater, have often been left scathed, unhappy and in sincere pain. The roof of the mouth and the tip of the tongue has been subjected to swelling and tenderness. You know what I’m talking about – suffering at the mercy of piping hot food.

We’ve been brought up on a diet of expecting hot food, and, if you’re really lucky, a warm plate to boot. Suspicions are raised when you’re given lukewarm food in a restaurant, where the expectation of piping hot food is a sign of thorough cooking. Ultimately, we want to cuddle our food and sustain its temperature to prolong the enjoyment of eating it. But with that (and impatience) comes the potential for injury.

“Eat from the edge,” said mum, when she’d give me a bowl of soup. Wise words indeed, as playing off your eagerness to eat against the food’s temperature is an exercise in patience. The puckered-lip/slurping action of eating a bowl of soup can almost certainly be attributed to this problem.

You’re about to eat a meal, so let’s assume you’re hungry. You’re going to want to go at it pretty much straight away. But going in hunger-first as opposed to with logic can result in pain and recoil. The molten cheese on a pizza hitting the roof of your mouth or the backdraft of bubbling fruit underneath the crumble are both big mouth scorchers. And there’s no going back once burned.

Mouths are tender things. Taste buds for instance are surrounded by pain nerves, and have a lifespan of anything from 10 days to 2 weeks, according to taste researcher Linda Bartoshuk. A scalding from food can actually kill your taste buds, but very reassuringly, burning your mouth doesn’t mean it’s over – taste buds do grow back. An injury in the mouth takes over your entire head and being. It’s all-consuming and makes every meal thereafter for the best part of a few days unenjoyable. The use of your tongue when eating becomes so much more apparent. Bite by bite your realise just how stupid you were, attesting that Goldilocks was right too walk away from the porridge that was too hot. rather than sit and blow and hope for the best.

Such a problem this kind of injury is, doctors in 2012 were developing an anti-burn strip – much like those melting chewing gums – which dissolve on the affected area, bringing pain relief, and helping the healing process. That’s a lot of brain power just to fix people’s impatience.

So the next time you’re about to tuck into that steaming bowl of pasta, think before you eat. And if you need the reminder, the answer will be on the tip of your tongue.

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