It’s the kick that fans of Japanese cuisine crave– the taste of wasabi, consumed fresh in green paste form for sushi or mixed as powder in everyday treats. A member of the Brassicaceae family (which includes cabbage, horseradish, and mustard), wasabi is also known as Japanese horseradish. Note, however, that horseradish is a different plant, although it is often used as a substitute for wasabi.
In Japan, where the earliest cultivation of the rhizome dates back to the 10th century, wasabi grows naturally in mountain streambeds. There are many cultivars in the marketplace, the main ones being W. japonica “Daruma” and “Mazuma.” Wasabi is most commonly consumed in the grated form of a green paste, as a condiment for sashimi (raw seafood) and sushi. But it is also used in many other Japanese dishes.
It has a strong, hot flavor that dissipates within a few seconds and leaves no burning aftertaste – it is, after all, not oil-based and therefore the burning sensation is “short-lived” compared to those of chili peppers. The sensation is felt mostly in your nasal passage and can cause pain depending on the amount consumed.
However, be aware of the fact that most “wasabi” powders and pastes available in the supermarket and restaurants contain only a minimal amount or even no real wasabi at all. Instead, much of what is presented as wasabi is in fact made from horseradish, Chinese mustard, and green food coloring. This is because cultivating real wasabi remains difficult and thus quite expensive. In fact, it is rare to find real wasabi plants outside of Japan, and many products labeled as wasabi do not actually contain the wasabi plant as an ingredient. In the United States, authentic wasabi is typically found only at specialty stores and high-end dining places.
Health Benefits of Wasabi
Wasabi has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-platelet, and potentially anti-cancer properties. It contains potassium, calcium, and vitamin C. As it is generally used in small amounts as a condiment and therefore does not qualify as a significant nutrient source.
Take note that the benefits can come only from the real deal – Only authentic wasabi provides these benefits so there are plenty of reasons to demand the real deal! Unfortunately, since it is extremely hard to come by even in Japan (it is estimated that only five percent of Japanese restaurants and only very high-end ones serve the real thing), you can find a good alternative in “wasabi” made from horseradish, spirulina, and turmeric.
Make sure to avoid wasabi imposters sold at most sushi places and groceries, as they may be laden with artificial flavors and artificial colors, as well as likely GM ingredients such as corn and soy.
Wasabi Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), root, raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Wasabi
Wasabi is not only celebrated for its culinary uses, but it is also investigated for its potential medicinal properties. Scientists looked at its isothiocyanates, particularly 6-methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate, which is believed to alleviate symptoms in disorders such as allergies, asthma, cancer, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases.1 6-Methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate is believed to act on Nrf2, a transcription factor involved in the antioxidant response.
On the other hand, a study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology2 examined the bactericidal activity of Korean and Japanese wasabi roots, stems, and leaves against Helicobacter pylori. All parts of wasabi showed bactericidal activities against specific strains of H. pylori bacteria, which causes a chronic low-level inflammation of your stomach lining that can result in an ulcer and associated symptoms.
Wasabi Healthy Recipes:
Grilled Salmon with Wasabi-Ginger Mayonnaise
|1 ½ limes
||½ cup mayonnaise
||1 ½ Tbsp. wasabi paste (more to taste)
||2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
|Salt and freshly ground black pepper
||4 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets
||Oil for the grill
- Prepare a medium-hot grill fire.
- Cut the half lime into four wedges and set aside. Finely grate the zest from the whole lime. Cut the zested lime in half and squeeze the juice from one half into a small bowl (save the other half for another use). In a medium bowl, combine 1 teaspoon of the lime juice with the lime zest, mayonnaise, wasabi paste, ginger, and 1.4 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Taste and add more wasabi paste if you’d like a zippier flavor.
- Run your finger along each salmon fillet to feel for tiny bones; use tweezers or needlenose pliers to pull out any that you find. Season the fillets lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise mixture onto the salmon fillets and refrigerate the rest. With your hands, spread the mayonnaise in a thin layer over all sides of the fillets.
- When the grill is ready, oil the grill grate using tongs and a paper towel dipped in oil. Grill the salmon until crisp, about 4 minutes. Turn and continue to grill until the salmon is just cooked through, another 3 to 6 minutes. Serve the salmon topped with a dollop of the mayonnaise and a lime wedge on the side. Pass the remaining mayonnaise at the table.
Wasabi Fun Facts
The flavor of wasabi is affected by how it is grated. The traditional way to grate it is with a sharkskin grater, also known as oroshi and resembling fine sandpaper. It is recommended to grate wasabi as needed, as the flavor and heat dissipate so quickly.
Since wasabi loses its flavor rapidly (in about 15 to 20 minutes when exposed to air), you can gather the shavings into a ball to keep them together for easy use as a condiment and to minimize air exposure. Wasabi that has lost its flavor can be revived back to life by grating on a little fresh wasabi into the pile and gathering them all into a ball again, rolling between your fingers.
Wasabi aficionados will want to visit the Daio Wasabi Farm in rural Azumino City near Matsumoto. It is one of Japan’s largest wasabi farms, and visitors can walk along trails leading to its fields. The farm sells a wide range of wasabi products such as wasabi paste, wasabi soft cream, wasabi soba noodles, and wasabi chocolate.
Wasabi is most commonly used as a green-paste condiment for sushi and sashimi, but it is also added to a wide number of food products and Japanese dishes. It has a strong, hot flavor with short-lived burning sensations. It is extremely difficult to cultivate wasabi, so be on the lookout for wasabi imposters made of horseradish, Chinese mustard, and green food coloring. You can only get the potential anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-platelet, and anti-cancer benefits from the real deal.