Why Does Mint Make Your Mouth Feel Cold?

While we typically experience five basic tastes (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami), every now and then, we put our taste buds to the test and turn up the dial with a flavor that extends far beyond our mouth and allows our bodies to physically feel hot and cold. For example, biting into a jalapeño and automatically feeling as if your mouth is on fire, or biting off a sprig of mint and feeling an intense cooling sensation. Hot and cold is not a taste, but this happens due to a process known as chemesthesis (via Eater). Sip on a mojito and that refreshing taste you feel in your mouth isn't only coming from the ice cubes floating in the middle. Your mouth is tingling due to the compound found in mint known as menthol.

When mint touches your tongue, the menthol activates receptors in our mouth. Those receptors that are associated with coldness, called TRPM8, go crazy sending tiny signals to our brain, which is tricked into thinking that our tongue is cold even when it's not (via Live Science). That is chemesthesis. This sensation can actually last long after the mint is gone. Have you ever tossed out your gum, only to take a sip of water and feel a tingly sensation with each sip? That's because menthol lingers in your mouth. You forget about it after awhile, but that sip of water reactivates the menthol, putting you into chemesthesis all over again.

The mouth isn't the only part of our body that experiences this sensation. Chemesthesis can occur anywhere nerve endings are close to the surface, like our eyes and nose. Ever wondered why you shouldn't touch your eyes after cutting jalapeños? You can thank chemesthesis for that unpleasant reaction. And be careful if you're ever brave enough to try the surprisingly tasty mixture of jalapeño and mint on your ice cream. Your mouth, eyes and nose may feel it all at once. 

The cooling sensation from mint can be quite beneficial in the summertime. Add a little mint to any of your poolside cocktails for an extra refreshing taste. And forget fanning yourself or pouring water over your head. Spritz a little peppermint on your neck and immediately feel it start to work. It's like all-natural air conditioning. Who knew a tiny leaf could cause such a reaction throughout the whole body?