When you think of Japanese cuisine, you immediately crave freshly grated wasabi if you are lucky. However, you are more likely to get that horrible green paste made by mixing wasabi powder with water. Real wasabi is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbage, horseradish and mustard. Wasabi is also known as Japanese horseradish. However, the European horseradish is different and is used to make fake wasabi by constituting it with mustard and bright green food dye.
Wasabi is grown in the wild amongst the mountainous riverbeds of Japan and the first rhizomes, also known as wasabi root, which was probably cultivated back in the 12th century. Today, the Japanese wasabi farms, such as the Diawo Wasabi Farm, grow commercial wasabi plants in vast irrigated fields. Wasabi plants like lots of water which it gets from the mountains. The main varieties of wasabi which are mainly cultivated, include Daruma and Mazuma.
Wasabi has a close association with many prepared Japanese dishes, especially with sashimi and sushi. Real fresh wasabi has a powerful hot and spicy flavour that dissipates to leave no burning aftertaste compared to fake wasabi that burns your mouth. Wasabi is different because it is not oil-based and allows for a short-lived zingy sensation compared to chilli peppers. The wasabi sensation is experienced in the nasal passages, where it triggers the capsaicin receptors.
WARNING: Most wasabi products sold in supermarkets and restaurants may only contain a tiny amount of real wasabi if you are lucky. However, in some cases, it may not contain any real wasabi -you are just eating horseradish, mustard and food colouring.
Why is wasabi so rare?
Real wasabi is very challenging to grow and that’s why it is so expensive. Also, it can take up to 3 years to produce mature wasabi rhizomes.
However, you can buy fresh wasabi rhizomes from the Wasabi Crop Shop. Also, you may be interested in fresh wasabi leaves and stems which can be used to spice up your boring salads.
Wasabi Crop is based in Northern Ireland and it is rare to find real wasabi outside Japan!
Health Benefits of Wasabi
Wasabi is a medicinal plant and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiplatelet and may have anticancer properties. Also, fresh wasabi is a good source of nutrients including minerals and vitamins such as potassium, calcium and vitamin E. These medicinal properties are only effective when using real wasabi and are not present in the fake stuff.
So, you need to avoid fake wasabi, which contains artificial flavours and colours, always check the label and grow your own wasabi if possible.
Fresh Wasabi Nutrients
Serving Size: 1 tablespoon (5 grams) of wasabi paste
|Calories from fat||0|
|TOTAL FAT||0.545 g|
|Saturated fat||0 g|
|TOTAL CARBOHYDRATES||2.31 g|
|Dietary fibre||0.305 g|
|Vitamin K||0.155 mcg|
|Vitamin C||50 mg/100 g|
Several studies have shown that wasabi facilitates its medicinal properties. The chemical compound which has been identified is an isothiocyanate, particularly 6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate. This compound may alleviate symptoms in disorders such as allergies, asthma, cancer, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases by acting on a transcription factor involved in the antioxidant response.
Also, another investigation has examined the bactericidal activity of the wasabi roots, including the leaves and stems, when subjected to Helicobacter pylori.
What is amazing about the wasabi is that all the plant shows bacterial properties against Helicobacter pylori which can cause inflammation in the stomach lining and lead to an ulcer.
Wasabi is mainly used as a green paste for sushi and sashimi and it is also added to a wide variety of food products by adding a strong, hot flavour with a short-lived zingy sensation.
However, wasabi is challenging to cultivate and therefore be aware of fake wasabi made of horseradish, mustard and green food colouring. Remember, you only get the health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiplatelet and anticancer from real wasabi.
I’m Sofia Kitson, the Wasabi Crop Blogger. My interests are writing articles on growing and cooking with wasabi.