Wasabi, often recognized as Japanese horseradish, is made from mincing of the wasabi plant. A spicy condiment prepared from the minced root of the plant, it is used on sushi and other Japanese dishes. It has a flavor that is more akin to spicy mustard or horseradish than peppers, it burns the nose rather than the tongue.
Outside of Japan, most wasabi sold is made with western or European horseradish and food coloring. These wasabi imitations may only contain one or two percent of the real thing. A specialty store will often import real wasabi direct from Japan. Often it’s much more expensive but the quality is also very apparent.
In Japan, the plant grows wild along stream beds in highland river basins. The first record of wasabi as a meal originates from the 8th century.
Because the Japanese wasabi plants are difficult to cultivate, hence lack of mass plant production has increased its price and limited availability outside of Japan, western horseradish is commonly substituted in many marketplaces.
Wasabi is commonly sold as a rhizome or stem that must be thoroughly ground by mincing or grating before use, as a dried powder, or as a ready-to-use paste in squeezable tubes.
At many upscale restaurants in Japan, the paste is made fresh when the customer orders it, using a grater or textured surface to shred the stem into the paste, if left uncovered, the paste loses taste and some flavor in less than 20 minutes.
Japanese chefs typically place wasabi between the fish and the rice in sushi preparation because covering wasabi until it is served will retain its taste, flavor, and potency.
Museum Dedicated to The Powerful Wasabi Plant
Wasabi Museum Izu
894-1 Tsukamoto, Kannami-Cho, Tagata-gun 419-0124, Shizuoka Prefecture
Along the right-hand inner wall at the museum’s entrance is historical information on “wasabi” it is printed in both Japanese and English.
There is a large selection of “wasabi”-flavored foods available for purchase.
There is an indoor restaurant that sells pre-packaged meals as well as seasonal specialties. A metal grater is included with your order and a small rhizome of fresh “wasabi,” so you may add as much spice to your food as you like.