There are some fruits* that cause a peculiar (unpleasant) numb sensation in the mouth. An unripe persimmon or a quince are two examples that come to mind. I can't describe the feeling any more eloquently so my bet/hope is that you will know what feeling I am talking about.

Is there a word in English that describes the mentioned quality of these fruits and/or the sensation in the mouth?

*I don't know that only fruit can cause it, but I can't think of anything else at the moment.

  • Szechuan pepper has a similar effect (though it's more like your tongue goes all tingly and buzzy for a bit, and kind of goes numb), hence its Chinese name, 麻辣 málà, meaning literally ‘numbing chilli’. Not sure if that's the same kind of numbness—I've certainly never heard of a specific word for it. Oct 19, 2013 at 13:29
  • 3
    I sometimes get it from Kiwi
    – mplungjan
    Oct 19, 2013 at 13:40
  • Deadening is a word that comes to mind
    – mplungjan
    Oct 19, 2013 at 13:42
  • 2
    I know the exact single word... in Russian. Yandex translates it as the rather cumbersome "my mouth feels constricted/drawn", which doesn't actually sound like the same thing to boot. And needless to say, I've never heard anybody use either expression. The Russian word (вяжет [во рту]), on the other hand, is ubiquitous. Everyone knows and uses it. (Russians seem to have a dedicated word for everything happening in their mouths, another example being оскомина, which is recognized as untranslatable into English.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 19, 2013 at 15:10
  • 1
    There's no natural term for it in English. You have described it, a numb or tingling sensation, but there's no special term. If there is a term surely it is a highly technical medical term.
    – Mitch
    Oct 19, 2013 at 15:18

5 Answers 5


Astringency or Puckering

From Wikipedia

Some foods, such as unripe fruits, contain tannins or calcium oxalate that cause an astringent or puckering sensation of the mucous membrane of the mouth. Examples include tea, red wine, rhubarb, and unripe persimmons and bananas.

Less exact terms for the astringent sensation are "dry", "rough", "harsh" (especially for wine), "tart" (normally referring to sourness), "rubbery", "hard" or "styptic"

From Education.com (emphasis mine):

Unripe persimmons are inedible because of the tannins that are diffused throughout the fruit. This tannins cause proteins in the saliva and tongue to coagulate. This coagulation of proteins produces the puckery, furry taste in the mouth that we refer to as astringency. This also happens with unripe bananas, some red wine and tea.

  • 1
    This seems to be the word(s) I was looking for, thank you very much! Oct 20, 2013 at 9:02
  • 1
    Astringency & puckering are sure the effect. However, neither of them refers to the numbing of the sense of taste, which in fact may be a further effect of astringency/ puckering. Neither of the words relate directly to the senses in any way. google.com/#q=define+astringency & google.com/#q=define+pucker
    – Kris
    Oct 21, 2013 at 14:38
  • 3
    @Kris But as I understood the question, the OP is asking for the numbing sensation in the mouth, the tannins in certain fruits etc. which cause the astringent taste one experiences. Now, it's been some time since I've tasted an unripe persimmon or a kiwi, so I can't remember if my tongue temporarily lost any feeling, but I do remember the general unpleasantness, and the coating which stuck to the tongue, and made my mouth feel quite dry. I presume it is this sensation, which the OP is asking for. If my answer is wrong, then modify your own to show why yours is the right one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 21, 2013 at 20:03
  • According to my experince, an easy and consistent way to aquire the experience described is to taste a raw plantain Oct 30, 2013 at 11:59

Desensitization generic term

The effect of certain chemicals such as capsaicin (active component of chili peppers; capsicum) on possible suppression of the sense of taste has been studied and it has been found that oral capsaicin reduces certain but not all taste sensations. There doesn't seem to be a specific name to such desensitization of the taste buds.

Certain foods (e.g. fats/ proteins) may leave a waxy residue on the tongue, also causing a suppression of the taste buds.


It's called hypogeusia - a diminished acuteness of the sense of taste. Related to this is dysgeusia - impaired or abnormal taste sensation. Although these conditions are caused by disease processes, temporary disturbances in taste can be caused by certain naturally occurring ingredients (by interfering with the normal functioning of taste receptors).

A less commonly used term is parageusia - the most familiar example of which is metallic taste from certain medications. Cacogeusia on the other hand is a hallucination or illusion of unpleasant taste, as seen in epilepsy.

Correction: Cacogeusia is now applied more generically to include real perception of bad taste. Example: the transient cacogeusia resulting from some varieties of pine nuts: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0266435612000101

The suggested term astringency is misleading. It is a generic term like numbness, not specific to taste in the mouth, strictly speaking not a sensation and certainly has no connotations of a numb sensation. You have astringent skin lotions for example.

  • Is there a tingling feeling associated with this? Is it caused by eating some kinds of fruit?
    – Mitch
    Oct 19, 2013 at 19:55
  • Yes - that would strictly come under the term dysgeusia.
    – user49727
    Oct 19, 2013 at 20:01
  • I think the OP is not asking about -taste- (sweet, salt, etc) but about the tactile sensation. Tingling and numbness are not tastes.
    – Mitch
    Oct 19, 2013 at 21:24
  • There is no such thing as numbness and tingling that is distinct from the sole function of taste buds - taste. All impairments in perception including absence of taste (numbness) or what is described here as 'tingling' are simply that - impairment of taste. As Kris explains below it is somewhat related to desensitization of receptors.
    – user49727
    Oct 19, 2013 at 21:37
  • If you touch your tongue with your finger, do you taste your finger or feel it? After you lick a stamp, do you feel the flavor or do you taste it? The tactile sense and the chemical (flavor) senses are distinct.
    – Mitch
    Oct 19, 2013 at 21:46

I've always called it "setting one's teeth on edge".

Literally, to cause an unpleasant tingling of the teeth. More generally, the expression is used to describe any feeling of unpleasant distaste.

[The Phrase Finder]

  • Hi, Kate. I've just edited your answer as a link-only answer is not encouraged on ELU because the link can change in the future (and it could be flagged as low-quality by the system). Please take a look and try to follow this format next time.
    – user140086
    Dec 14, 2016 at 10:59

I am not sure that this is exactly what you are describing, but it sounds like paresthesia

a sensation of tingling, tickling, prickling, pricking, or burning of a person's skin with no apparent long-term physical effect. The manifestation of a paresthesia may be transient or chronic.

Some of these sensations are commonly called pins and needles.

There is also an allergic reaction in the mouth called oral allergy syndrome (OAS) characterized by

an itching or burning sensation in the lips, mouth, ear canal, and/or pharynx.

  • Is the same feeling that results from our limbs "falling asleep"?
    – MrHen
    Oct 19, 2013 at 17:41
  • @MrHen Yes, that is one version of paresthesia.
    – bib
    Oct 20, 2013 at 14:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.