Some members of the transient receptor potential (TRP) family of cation channels mediate sensory responses to irritant substances. Although it is well known that TRPA1 channels are activated by pungent compounds found in garlic, onion, mustard and cinnamon extracts, activation of TRPV1 by these extracts remains controversial. Here we establish that TRPV1 is activated by pungent extracts from onion and garlic, as well as by allicin, the active compound in these preparations, and participates together with TRPA1 in the pain-related behavior induced by this compound. We found that in TRPV1 these agents act by covalent modification of cysteine residues. In contrast to TRPA1 channels, modification of a single cysteine located in the N-terminal region of TRPV1 was necessary and sufficient for all the effects we observed. Our findings point to a conserved mechanism of activation in TRP channels, which provides new insights into the molecular basis of noxious stimuli detection.