Do you know what real wasabi tastes like?
When you think of sushi, you automatically think of soy sauce, ginger and wasabi, because in combination the four components are simply unbeatable. However, many people don’t know that most wasabi products here consist almost exclusively of horseradish, mustard and additives. Only a tiny fraction of the green paste is actually real wasabi. Find out why and what else you should know about wasabi here.
Here, wasabi is also called “green horseradish”, “Japanese horseradish” or “water horseradish”. Botanically, this name is somewhat misleading, even though real wasabi belongs to the cruciferous family, just like horseradish or horseradish. While horseradish uses the root, wasabi is more the so-called rhizome of the plant. Botanically, it is more like cabbage than the horseradish that gives it its name. As with mustard and horseradish, the pungency of the rhizome comes from various mustard oils. It is not perceived on the tongue, asit is the case with chillies, for example, but is rather felt in the throat and nose. The spiciness of real wasabi is also far more pronounced and intense than that of horseradish or mustard.
Does wasabi only grow in Asia?
Ideal conditions for wasabi are flowing and shallow waters, a temperature of 8-20°C and a shady environment. Due to its special requirements therefore, wasabi cannot be cultivated everywhere, which is why fresh wasabi is difficult to obtain outside Japan and very expensive. Nowadays, however, it has been possible to cultivate genuine wasabi in Korea, Taiwan, China, New Zealand, the USA and the UK. The Wasabi Company in England, for example, also offers high-quality wasabi powder with 20% real wasabi. In addition, this product contains only horseradish, mustard, turmeric and no additives. The wasabi used there grows in flowing water from natural springs on farms in Dorset and Hampshire. These conditions mimic the mountain springs of Japan where wild wasabi thrives. Even in Austria, more precisely in Burgenland, there are attempts to grow real wasabi. The start-up PhytonIQ has been working on a way to make wasabi cultivable indoors since 2017..
Paste, powder or rhizome?
In principle, wasabi is available in three different forms. On the one hand, there is fresh wasabi, on the other there is wasabi as a paste, which in Europe usually comes from a tube. The most common form, however, is wasabi powder. Wasabi served in restaurants is almost always the powder that ends up on the plate. This is simply mixed with water and can then be served with sushi and other foods, just like the paste. The difference between paste is that the paste is relatively soft, so it can be squeezed out of the tube. This is practical for the home, but does not look as appealing. With powder, the consistency can be influenced by the amount of powder. For example, wasabi paste in restaurants usually has a relatively firm form.
Ingredients in wasabi products
Whether paste or powder, the content often unfortunately has little to do with real wasabi. The actual wasabi content is usually only between 0.5 and 3%. The rest, and thus the majority, is made up of horseradish, mustard, turmeric, colourings, sugar, corn starch, soy flour and other additives. While horseradish, mustard and turmeric are of course not bad ingredients, it is usually the numerous additives that do not guarantee high quality. Due to the high price of wasabi, there is even wasabi powder with 0% real wasabi for the gastronomy. In this case, however, the product may no longer be called wasabi and is labelled as horseradish powder on the packaging. Of course, this is not recognisable on the plate. So it is worth looking very carefully when buying and taking a look at the ingredients. The substitute products in paste or powder form are also available in Japan. There they are called Seiyō wasabi (western wasabi) or Kona wasabi (powdered wasabi).
Hon Wasabi – Real Wasabi
The highest-quality and therefore naturally most expensive variety is nama wasabi (fresh wasabi) or hon wasabi (real wasabi). Hon wasabi shiyo is real wasabi in powder form. It must contain at least 50% real wasabi.
Fresh wasabi rhizome is priced at around € 350 to € 400 per kilogram in Europe, which is not exactly a bargain. The rootstock owes its price in Europe largely to its low demand. In Japan, thanks to its high demand, real wasabi is offered at a much lower price. However, since it is usually only used in very small doses thanks to its intensity, it is mostly only bought in small quantities, which also makes the European price seem less high. Anyone who has tried freshly grated wasabi knows that the aromas of the fresh product are quite different from the widely used green paste. They are far more complex and fruity. Traditionally, wasabi in Japan is grated on a piece of shark skin, but there are now many suitable alternatives, such as high-quality metal or ceramic graters. A Microplane is also well suited for this purpose. After grating, however, the paste should be used up quickly. The wasabi loses its flavour and intensity after about 15 to 30 minutes.
Is wasabi only eaten with sushi?
Wasabi is used especially in Japanese cuisine. We all know it especially as an addition to sushi and sashimi. However, wasabi does not belong stirred into the soy sauce, but is applied between the fish and rice because of its antibacterial effect. Depending on the type of fish and the customer’s wishes, the amount of wasabi can also vary. In our Sushi Tokyo Style class you will learn how to use wasabi correctly and what no-goes there are when eating sushi.
But that is by far not everything that the spicy rootstock has to offer. As an ingredient in dressings and sauces, for example, wasabi adds that certain something. Classics such as the mashed potatoes from our Steak Heaven class or mayonnaise can easily be enhanced with a small amount of wasabi. However, wasabi is not only of great importance in Japanese cuisine. The food industry has also made use of the wasabi flavour, or at least the name, and is experimenting with products such as wasabi peanuts or wasabi peas, which hardly contain any real wasabi.