Posted October 17, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Real Wasabi

Following the DC Trivia Question #2, I thought I’d follow up with a bit more of a detailed post regarding the nature of real wasabi.

Pile of Wasabi
Click to Enlarge

First off, long ago, I had the chance to tour the Pacific Farms Wasabi Ranch in Oregon, so I’ve known for quite sometime that the green glop at sushi joints is fake but since I’ve never had the chance to taste 100% wasabi I’ve never had the chance to miss it.

I’d venture to guess that less then 50% of Americans know that “American” Wasabi is indeed a horseradish powder with green food coloring. But in this case, it may be better to remain blissfully ignorant.

What is Wasabi?
Wasabi (Japanese: ?? or ???; scientific name Wasabia japonica (syn. Cochlearia wasabi, Eutrema japonica)) is a member of the cabbage family. Commonly known as Japanese horseradish, it is green and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is different from that of the chile pepper, which burns the tongue; wasabi produces vapors that burn the sinus cavity instead. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. There are also other species used such as W. koreana, and W. tetsuigi. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are W. japonica var. Duruma and Mazuma, but there are many others.
From Wikipedia

Squeezed Wasabi Real wasabi is one of the rarest and most difficult vegetables in the world to grow, which is why that fake stuff was created. It’s like Krab (You know, Crab with a K) – the fake crab meat. It’s cheaper and easier.
It’s surprisingly spongy, but that may be because of the freezing & defrosting processes it underwent on its way from Japan. Wasabi rhizome and the sushi bar wasabi have one thing in common – a “strong pungent and lachrymatory sensoric quality.” In other words, they can both make you cry like a baby.

The Science of Wasabi ** Chile Pepper Magazine – Oct 2005
Wasabi hits the nasal passages hard. While chile peppers heat with capsaicin, which attaches to the saliva and stays in the mouth, wasabi, which is in the mustard family, heats with mustard oil, which is a gas rather than an oil and which goes right up the nose as the taste buds on the front of the tongue are tickled too. This is because of allyl isothiocyanates, which give pungency, and glucosinolates, which are also found in mustard oils and horseradish. While the heat of chiles lingers, the hot-chill of wasabi gasses off, leaving a pleasant green taste behind. Wasabi is in the cabbage family, but scientists have also traced its family roots to some grandparents of arugula as well. There are some indications that eating wasabi may be helpful in blood clotting and in cardiovascular care, as well as protecting against breast cancer, stomach and colon cancers and even tooth decay.

Real Wasabi Vs. Fake Wasabi
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The pile on the left is fresh grated wasabi rhizome and the pile on the right is the sushi bar wasabi. Visually, you can see just how pasty and fake the sushi bar stuff is, while the real rhizome looks pleasant and appetizing. Smell wise, the real rhizome has the fake stuff beat hands down. The nostrils are assaulted with one whiff, causing the eyes to water instantly. Taste also goes to the real rhizome – the sushi bar stuff has a bit more ‘heat’ but the real stuff definitely has much more flavor.

If you are going to cook with wasabi (I highly recommend you do) order the wasabi paste from Pacific Farms and get yourself of this months Chile Pepper Magazine. The Wasabi Rib Eye Steak and Wasabi Mashed Potatoes sound delicious – I’ll be trying them out sometime soon. Back Issues of Chile Pepper Magazine are available here.

Pacific Farms USA
P.O Box 51505
Eugene, OR 97439

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog