Little Known Secrets About Japanese Wasabi

If you’ve ever eaten at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve seen a little dollop of a green paste either on a plate or in a cup beside some ginger and other sauces. You may not have tried this, or you may have startled yourself with its bold flavor. This green paste is wasabi. 

Wasabi is a very common condiment accompanying Japanese cuisine, but it has also seen an infusion in other types of cuisines. There’s a lot to know about this interesting green plant that may surprise you. 

Wasabi Stem

Wasabi Comes From A Plant

You might have stared at the bright green paste on your plate and wondered where it could have possibly come from. Wasabi is a plant that grows in the ground usually on river beds or in flowing spring water.

The root is short, and the long stem is usually greenish-brown. The leaves that grow at the top of the wasabi plant are bright green.

Wasabi Is Considered Part Of The Cabbage Family

Wasabi is a herbaceous plant, or a Brassicaceae, which is a relative of cabbage. Many people think it might be a form of horseradish, but it’s not. 

The leaves of the wasabi plant are edible, and they work well in a variety of dishes. You can add the raw leaves and add them to your salads or sandwiches, or cook them up as an added vegetable in a variety of mixed dishes

Wasabi Farm In Japan

The Wasabi You Eat Comes From The Stem

Wasabi comes from the stem of the wasabi plant, and not the root or the leaves. If you are eating wasabi directly from the plant, you want to grate the stem just before you are about to eat it. This is because fresh, authentic wasabi straight from the plant will lose its flavor very quickly. 

Wasabi is traditionally grated using a sharkskin grater, which is also known as an oroshi. The texture of this grater is similar to sandpaper. This type of grater allows you to grate your wasabi stem into a fine paste, which is much easier to spread on your sushi or other Japanese dishes. 

Grated Wasabi

One of the most enjoyable things about wasabi is the burst of flavor that doesn’t linger for too long. This is why many people enjoy the heat of wasabi even if they aren’t a fan of other spices.

It doesn’t stay in your mouth too long, or burn your mouth, leading you to reach for a glass of water to get rid of the taste. 

As long as you store your wasabi stem very well, you can keep it for months. The wasabi only starts to lose flavor when it’s removed from the stem. 

The leaves can be eaten in a variety of ways, but it’s also very common to pickle them. The art of pickling wasabi leaves is called wasabi zuke.

Wasabi Is Not Just For Sushi

If eating at a Japanese restaurant not located in Japan, you’ll notice that wasabi is usually served with sushi. Wasabi can complement a lot of other dishes as well. It’s considered a condiment, and its purpose is to add flavor to dishes. 

It pairs really well with Japanese beef, adds some zing to your rice and noodle dishes, and works well with a variety of seafood dishes. 

Growing Wasabi Is Really Difficult

If you love wasabi, you might have considered growing some yourself to save some money. However, wasabi is quite a picky plant, and there are some strict rules you have to follow in order to be able to grow it successfully. 

In Japan, wasabi is grown in mountainous areas and is shielded from the sunlight, as they don’t like getting excessive sunlight. They also tend to be grown around rivers, with their roots growing into the water.

The plants are also picky about temperature, preferring to grow in a climate between 46 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. 

There are a few other countries that grow wasabi, including China, Taiwan, and the United States. 

There Is A Lot Of Fake Wasabi

Being that wasabi is so tough to grow, supply definitely doesn’t come anywhere near demand. This is part of what leads to wasabi being very expensive, and what leads to a lot of fake wasabi being on the market. 

Being that wasabi lovers live all over the world and not just in Japan, the only way to really meet the demand in any capacity for wasabi is to make artificial alternatives that taste similar but are easier to produce and cheaper to sell. 

This fake wasabi usually contains horseradish or Japanese mustard, as well as a variety of other spices and ingredients. Food coloring is what typically gives artificial wasabi its bright color.

You will typically see wasabi in stores in a paste or powder form. All you have to do is read the label to see that it’s not true wasabi. 

If you’re living and dining outside of Japan, there is a very slim chance you will be able to get your hands on real wasabi if you’re dinning out. 

In order to buy authentic wasabi outside of Japan, you will most likely have to search around for a specialty food shop. You should be prepared to pay a lot for a small amount. 

Wasabi Has Some Great Health Benefits

If something is green, it has to be healthy, right? In the case of wasabi, that thought is definitely proven to be true. You also don’t have to eat a lot of it to benefit from what it has to offer. 

Wasabi is an effective anti-inflammatory, which is ideal if you are prone to tension and aches in your muscles or extremities, or help reduce pain and inflammation in the body. 

If you eat the wasabi leaves, you are also getting a healthy dose of calcium and Vitamin C. This is a nice option for calcium if you eat a plant-based diet. 

There is also the belief that consuming wasabi can help curb the common symptoms of allergies, such as congestion and a sore throat. 

Wasabi Can Help You When You Have Food Poisoning

Wasabi is regarded as having medicinal benefits in Japan. Given that it’s common to eat raw fish in Japanese cuisine, it’s not that surprising that wasabi came to be eaten alongside it because it can help curb the chance of food poisoning. 

There is a specific chemical within wasabi that has antibacterial capabilities, as well as some other great uses. This chemical also helps give wasabi its ability to fight off food poisoning. 

Wasabi Wasn’t Always Called Wasabi

Wasabi is a pretty memorable name, and it is derived from the plant’s current proper name, but it wasn’t always referred to as such. It used to be called yamaaoi

The part yama translates to the mountain, which is fitting because it was originally discovered growing in mountain regions of Japan. The -aoi part comes from zeniaoi, which is a plant. The leaves that grow out of wasabi plants look similar to the zeniaoi plant.  

Wasabi Has Been Eaten For Thousands Of Years

Wasabi has been known for the taste of the wasabi in the stem, as well as the wasabi leaves, for thousands upon thousands of years. It was also known how expansive the medicinal and nutritional benefits of wasabi were for the same amount of time.

Why Is Wasabi So Exspensive

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.