chemical structure of sinigrin

The spicy nature of real wasabi superfood is the result of allyl isothiocyanate, which is derived from sinigrin and as the chemical name, allyl glucosinolate or 2-propenyl glucosinolate.

This natural glucosinolate is present in plants of the Brassicaceae family, including cabbage, mustard, and horseradish.  Over the last millennium, wasabi has been used for its culinary and medicinal properties. However, during the Jomon period (14,000 BC to 400 BC), wasabi was restricted only to the ruling class in Japan. Today fresh wasabi can be found outside Japan, but it is still rare owing to a handful of growers.  Therefore, you mostly come across fake wasabi which gives you an over-pungent, bitter and harsh burning sensation compared to real wasabi which subtle and delicate taste. 

Several studies have been conducted on the pharmacological activities of sinigrin and have revealed anti-cancer, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

To the pharmaceutical industry, natural products provide a rich source of organic compounds for drug discovery platforms.  Interestingly, it is estimated that more than 80% of the world’s population depends on traditional medicine to treat various disease states.

However, over the last decade, it has been discovered that several classes of metabolites, such as glucosinolates and their hydrolysis products, have therapeutic properties. Therefore, these metabolites can be utilized as nutraceuticals which can produce therapeutic benefits.

These glucosinolates are a class of abundant secondary metabolites that are characteristic of the plants of the Brassicaceae family, including wasabia japonica which is native to Japan.

The glucosinolates can be broken down by the enzyme myrosinase into the isothiocyanates which are the main bioactives, responsible for pharmacological effects.

Real wasabi is a superfood

A 28-gram portion of freshly grated wasabi contains 30.5 calories and 0.2 grams of fat.  Therefore, a diet containing low in calories and fat is a good start to keep you healthy. For example, 28 grams of wasabi will provide your body with 1.3 grams of protein and essential dietary fibre to keep the gut and heart in good shape. Moreover, real wasabi is packed with minerals, especially calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and potassium, to contribute to your balanced diet. However, wasabi punches a host of vitamins including, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C and folate. Although wasabi is a powerhouse for minerals and vitamins, it contains high isothiocyanates and offers several health benefits. What is excellent about fresh wasabi is that it has no cholesterol.

Typical Nutrition Information of 130 grams of Fresh Wasabi

Calories142
Carbohydrates30.6 g
Protein6.2 g
Fat0.8 g
Fibre 10.1 g
VITAMINS
Riboflavin0.1 mg
Thiamine0.2 mg
Vitamin C5 mg
Vitamin B60.4 mg
MINERALS
Calcium166 mg
Copper0.2 mg
Iron1.3 mg
Magnesium89.7 mg
Manganese0.5 mg
Phosphorus104 mg
Potassium738 mg
Zinc2.1 mg

Wasabi is a superfood because it contains many health benefits and can take over two years to reach maturity -that’s why it’s so expensive. But, remember, these health benefits only occur with real wasabi.  The fake wasabi is a mixture of horseradish, mustard and green food dye and does not have the health benefits from eating real wasabi.

Health benefits of real wasabi

Medicinal PropertyDescription
Prevents Food PoisoningAccording to Japan’s oldest botanical dictionary, called the ‘Honzo Waymo’, wasabi was used for various medicinal properties. This dictionary was compiled in 918 and contains many references to wasabi use as an antidote for food poisoning.  This medicinal property has been shown to be accurate and wasabi has been found to contain allyl isothiocyanate which inhibits the growth of E. coli, Salmonella sp, H. pylori, and Staphylococcus aureus – the bacteria causing food poisoning.
AntiparasiticThe isothiocyanates (ITCs) released during the grating of fresh wasabi can protect against parasites in various foods.  For example, ITCs are effective against Anisakiasis, a parasitic disease caused by anisakid nematodes (worms) present in cod, salmon, and squid.  However, since wasabi contains many ITCs, it will offer you protection against eating raw fish and prevent gastrointestinal symptoms.
Lowers CholesterolWasabi has anti-hypercholesterolemic properties and therefore, eating this spice will help control your cholesterol levels and hopefully help prevent stroke and atherosclerosis.
Prevents Tooth DecayThe isothiocyanate produced in wasabi can help to prevent tooth decay by inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus mutans.
Anti-ageing PropertiesThe sulfinyl compound 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC) present in wasabi helps the body reduce the reactive oxygen that may be linked to certain cancers.  Also, 6-MSITC prevents pollen allergies and improves blood circulation.
Blood CirculationThe sulfinyl compound 6-MSITC works by inhibiting blood clot formation and therefore reduces the risk of cardiac arrest and strokes.
Lowers HypertensionWasabi contains potassium which is used by the body to regulate blood pressure and blood flow. If you become deficient in potassium, it can lead to hypertension and increase your risk of stroke and cardiac diseases. However, since wasabi is low in sodium, it will also cause your blood vessels to relax and increase the blood flow, protecting from hypertension.
Respiratory DisordersThe volatile allyl isothiocyanate produced from the grating of fresh wasabi can decongest the respiratory tract.  Also, studies have shown that isothiocyanate has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to prevent infections and asthma.
ArthritisWasabi contains organic compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, wasabi consumed in your healthy diet would help to treat the inflammatory condition arthritis.  These compounds work by preventing platelet aggregation and can inhibit prostaglandin from reducing pain and inflammation.
Reduce Cancer RiskThe anti-cancer properties associated with wasabi are due to the sulfinyl compound 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC), which can induce apoptosis in stomach cancer monoblastic leukaemia cells.
AllergiesThe wasabi plant contains a lot of vitamin C and other antioxidants to boost the immune system.  Also, real wasabi has sinigrin which is responsible for clearing congestion and thinning out mucus.  In addition to reducing inflammation and stimulating the immune system. Sinigrin as is anti-cancer properties.
Digestive SystemWasabi is high in fibre and helps to promote bile production to boost liver and gallbladder function.
DetoxificationReal wasabi is natural detoxification and can expel toxins from the liver tissues and maintain a healthy digestive system.  
Eating fresh wasabi will increase your nutrient intake and contribute to your overall health!

In summary, the health benefits of real wasabi include the following:

Wasabi improves the immune system

It can improve gut health

It can help with arthritis and bone-related issues

It may reduce the risk of cancer

It may reduce the risk of heart disease and protect heart health

It has anti-inflammatory properties for joints and muscles

It has antibacterial properties and can kill food-borne bacteria

It can help with the adverse effects of seasonal allergies

It can help heal respiratory conditions

It may promote fat loss

How can you tell the difference between real wasabi and fake stuff?

If you are served wasabi in a restaurant, just check the texture of the wasabi paste. If the wasabi is thick and pasty, that is a sign that it is fake wasabi, usually from horseradish and pureed to give a smooth texture.  However, if the wasabi is consistency is gritty from being freshly grated, it is more likely to be real wasabi from a wasabi rhizome.

Remember, real wasabi is always served fresh because it loses its flavour and zinginess quickly once grated. For example, at a high-end sushi restaurant, the chefs will carefully grate the exact amount of wasabi to complement the sushi and balance the flavour of the fish. It is often placed between the rice and the nigiri sushi topping to preserve it as best as possible.

Why not try fresh wasabi?

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