Wasabi

Wasabi as most of us know it is not the real thing, but a blend that includes the more familiar horseradish. Many products produced in Japan are called “seiyo wasabi,” which means “western” horseradish.

Often called Japanese horseradish, wasabi has a similar flavor to horseradish, but is of no relation. The green paste is derived from grating the rhizome (an above-ground root) of the herb Wasabia japonica. Most pastes and powders exported from Japan are not made from wasabi at all, but from true horseradish.

Real wasabi is typically an accompaniment to sushi and sashimi and served in upscale restaurants. Outside of Japan, horseradish is used instead, although small portions of the wasabi stem may be incorporated.

Varieties

Sawa is the aquatic variety and is of higher culinary quality in both appearance and taste.

Oka is land-grown and is less pungent. Generally produced for its reported therapeutic properties.

Buying Tips

Countries outside of Asia, including the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, are now beginning to have some growing success with this plant. Wasabi requires a tropical environment, but does not thrive in hydroponic or greenhouse settings.

Many substitutes are labeled wasabi. Unless otherwise noted, these are actually a mix of horseradish, mustard, cornstarch, and green food coloring. Do not be tempted to pay a high price for these products unless you are sure of the contents. Authentic powders and pastes should be listed as “hon-wasabi,” which means true and original.

Powders and pastes are available through Internet retailers and may be sold in specialty markets, depending on region.

Storage Tips

Roots can be refrigerated for about one month if wrapped in a wet towel.

Usage Tips

The root must be grated carefully and efficiently to prevent heat and texture deterioration. Use a grater with small teeth and hold horizontally to the counter surface. Grate in a circular motion.

Wasabi paste can enhance many foods, including dips, sauces, and dressings.

Mix wasabi powder with water to make a paste. Let it rest for about ten minutes for the full flavor to develop. Use within half an hour before oxidation begins degrading the flavors.

While true wasabi has an initial “burn” that travels up the nasal passages, it does not linger. Small portions are generally served due to its potency.

Substitutions

Horseradish or hot mustard

 

by BigOven editorial team
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