Wasabi: Discover The Secrets of the Spicy Green Paste
There’s a special green paste that is often served with sushi rolls. It is extremely spicy and can make the eyes water and the nose burn.
It’s called Wasabi paste, and it’s known for its distinct flavor, but most people don’t know the real from the imitation.
Wasabi is actually a healthy Japanese plant with a flavor similar to horseradish, only spicier. It has a green color, and it is served as a powder of paste, usually alongside raw fish or sushi rolls.
So why do people like to eat Wasabi? It’s a tasty and hot addition to seafood.
In this guide, I’ll discuss what Wasabi is, how the paste is made, and what its benefits are, so you know why Japanese people love it so much.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is Wasabi?
- 2 Wasabi paste vs Wasabi powder vs Wasabi plant
- 3 Where does Wasabi grow?
- 4 Real vs imitation Wasabi
- 5 What does Wasabi taste like?
- 6 Does Wasabi burn?
- 7 How is Wasabi used?
- 8 Wasabi: a brief history
- 9 What’s the best substitute for Wasabi?
- 10 The challenges of Wasabi cultivation
- 11 How to grate Wasabi: the traditional method
- 12 Why is Wasabi so expensive?
- 13 Wasabi vs Horseradish: what’s the difference?
- 14 Wasabi vs Ginger
- 15 FAQs
- 15.1 Why put Wasabi on sushi?
- 15.2 Is real Wasabi spicy?
- 15.3 What does Wasabi do to your body?
- 15.4 Is Wasabi good for you?
- 15.5 Can eating too much Wasabi hurt you?
- 15.6 Is real Wasabi white or green?
- 15.7 Is Wasabi hotter than chili?
- 15.8 Why does Wasabi go to your brain?
- 15.9 Is too much Wasabi toxic?
- 15.10 Is Wasabi Japanese or Chinese?
- 16 Conclusion
What is Wasabi?
Have you ever seen that bright green paste next to your sushi roll? That’s wasabi! But chances are, you’ve never actually tasted the real thing.
Wasabi, also known as Japanese horseradish, belongs to the same family as horseradish and mustard.
Wasabi is a spicy condiment that is popular in Japanese cuisine. It is usually sold as a rhizome, dried powder, or ready-to-use paste in tubes.
The Korean Peninsula and the Russian Far East, including Sakhalin, are also home to the plant’s original habitat.
In Japan, you can find it growing wild in the valleys of mountain rivers and stream beds.
The wasabi plant grows as a long, slender stem that can reach up to 3 feet in height, with leaves that are bright green and slightly oval in shape.
The plant produces small, white, or yellow flowers that bloom in the spring or summer, and its root, or rhizome, is the part that is used to make wasabi paste.
The wasabi rhizome is a thick, knotty root that can grow up to 6 inches in length and 2 inches in diameter.
It is usually pale green on the outside and white on the inside.
When grated, the rhizome releases compounds that give wasabi its signature flavor and heat.
In its natural habitat, the wasabi plant prefers moist, shady environments, and it can be difficult to grow and cultivate.
This, combined with its popularity and limited availability, is one of the reasons why authentic wasabi is so expensive.
Wasabi (the food, not the plant) is a green paste commonly used as a condiment in Japanese cuisine.
Wasabi paste is made from the rhizome of the Wasabia japonica plant, and it has a unique, clean spiciness that comes from allyl isothiocyanate.
It is typically served with sushi and sashimi and is known for its strong, pungent flavor and heat.
The heat from wasabi results from the release of compounds when the paste is mixed with water.
If you are a fan of wasabi you definitely want to try this Powerful Wasabi Sushi Sauce Recipe That’ll Wake Your Tastebuds
Wasabi paste vs Wasabi powder vs Wasabi plant
Wasabi paste is a traditional Japanese condiment that packs a punch! It’s made from the stem of the wasabi plant and has a sharp, pungent flavor.
It’s most commonly served with sushi and sashimi, and it’s the green paste you may have seen on your plate.
Wasabi paste is a great way to add a bit of spice to your meal and its unique taste and smell come from the formation of volatile compounds.
Wasabi powder is a form of wasabi that is made from dried wasabi root that has been ground into a fine powder.
This powder can be mixed with water to create a paste, similar to traditional wasabi paste.
Wasabi powder is a popular alternative to fresh wasabi or pre-made wasabi paste, as it is more readily available and has a longer shelf life.
To use wasabi powder, simply mix a small amount of the powder with water to create a paste.
The consistency and flavor of the resulting paste can be adjusted by adding more or less water.
The paste will continue to develop in flavor and heat intensity over the next 10-15 minutes, so it is best to prepare it just before serving.
Now the Wasabi plant refers to the actual plant which has a root, stem, and flower. It’s the plant that both wasabi paste and powder are made from.
Where does Wasabi grow?
In Japan, wasabi is mainly grown in the following regions:
- Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture
- Nagano Prefecture, including the Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino
- Iwate Prefecture
- Shimane Prefecture, known for its Hikimi wasabi
Wasabi is also grown in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world, but usually on a small scale.
Wasabi is a finicky crop that prefers certain growing conditions, like:
- No direct sunlight
- Air temperatures between 8 and 20 °C (46 and 68 °F)
- High humidity in summer
These conditions make it difficult to cultivate, which is why it’s so expensive.
Real vs imitation Wasabi
Wasabi is traditionally made by grating the root of the wasabi plant and mixing it with water, although most commercial wasabi products are made from a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and food coloring.
Grated wasabi rhizome is the key ingredient in authentic wasabi paste (the subterranean stem of the plant).
The distinctive flavor compounds in wasabi, known as volatile compounds, are quickly degraded after being grated.
That’s why the taste of authentic wasabi paste is at its peak when it’s just been made and served fresh.
Wasabi’s high price tag is partly because it is notoriously difficult to cultivate.
Counterfeit wasabi paste, on the other hand, is inexpensive and keeps for a long time.
This imitation wasabi is clearly less expensive and more widely available than authentic wasabi, which can be difficult to find and is more expensive.
So, as a result, most restaurants actually serve imitation wasabi made of regular horseradish and green food coloring, and it doesn’t actually contain any wasabi in it.
If you want to try real wasabi, it is better to buy it imported from Japan, like this authentic Japanese Wasabi from the Shizuoka Prefecture.
What’s in fake Wasabi?
Most wasabi served in restaurants and grocery stores is not real wasabi.
It’s usually made from horseradish, radishes, mustard, and artificial color. It also may contain thickening agents like flour or cornstarch.
Fake wasabi has a much stronger and longer-lasting heat than real wasabi. That’s why it can make people shed tears while eating it.
How to tell real Wasabi from fake
Real wasabi has a grated, gritty texture, while fake wasabi is usually pasty and thick.
Real wasabi is always served freshly grated, and the traditional method for grating is to run the root in circles over sharkskin.
Here are some ways to tell real wasabi from fake stuff:
- Color: Real wasabi is a pale green color, while most imitation wasabi is bright green. This is because it is often made from a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and food coloring.
- Texture: Real wasabi has a smooth and creamy texture, while imitation wasabi is often more granulated and has a rough, grainy feel.
- Flavor: Authentic wasabi has a unique flavor that is both spicy and pungent, with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Imitation wasabi, on the other hand, often has a stronger, more one-dimensional flavor that is dominated by the taste of horseradish.
- Heat: The heat from real wasabi is intense, but it dissipates quickly, leaving a refreshing, slightly sweet aftertaste. The heat from imitation wasabi is usually less intense and tends to linger on the palate.
- Price: Authentic wasabi is more expensive than imitation wasabi, so if you are buying wasabi at a low price, it is most likely not the real thing.
When in doubt, it’s always best to ask the server or the vendor about the type of wasabi being served.
If you are looking for authentic wasabi, you may need to seek it out at specialty stores or Japanese restaurants that specialize in traditional Japanese cuisine.
Why is real Wasabi so expensive?
Real wasabi is hard to grow because it needs to be partially submerged in moving water.
It’s also a sensitive plant that can be killed by small changes in the environment like humidity levels.
Most wasabi is cultivated in Japan, and the rhizomes can be sold for more than $75 a pound. That’s why you won’t see the real thing in most restaurants and grocery stores.
What does Wasabi taste like?
Real wasabi has a bright, green flavor with a touch of heat that quickly fades away. It’s pungent but delicate enough to let the flavor of the sushi shine through.
Wasabi has a unique and intense flavor that is both spicy and pungent.
The heat from wasabi is similar to that of a hot pepper, but it is more sharp and doesn’t linger as long on the palate.
The flavor of wasabi is often described as having a combination of sweetness, spiciness, and a slight horseradish-like taste.
The flavor of wasabi is actually the result of a combination of different chemicals from the broken cells of the plant.
These chemicals include glucose, sulfur-containing organic compounds, and methylthioalkyl isothiocyanates.
It is important to note that the heat from wasabi dissipates relatively quickly, leaving a refreshing, slightly sweet aftertaste.
The combination of flavors in wasabi makes it an excellent condiment to accompany many dishes, especially sushi, and sashimi, where it helps to cleanse the palate between bites.
Wasabi is meant to highlight the flavor of the fish, not overpower it.
Does Wasabi burn?
Here’s an interesting fact: fake wasabi actually burns longer than real wasabi.
It can burn the tongue, mouth, and nose, causing some discomfort. The feeling is similar to eating hot peppers.
But unlike the effects of capsaicin in chili peppers, the burning sensation of real wasabi is short-lived.
It’s felt mainly in the nasal passage and can be quite painful depending on how much you eat.
Plus, the burning sensation is easily washed away with food or liquid.
The “burn” or heat that you experience when eating Wasabi is caused by compounds called isothiocyanates, which stimulate our trigeminal nerves, the same nerves that detect heat and pain in the mouth and nose.
When these compounds come into contact with the sensitive tissues in our mouths, they trigger a pain response that creates the sensation of heat or burning.
The heat from wasabi is different from the heat generated by chili peppers, which stimulates our pain receptors through capsaicin.
The intensity of the heat from wasabi can vary depending on the quality and preparation of the paste.
Some commercial versions of wasabi paste are made with less wasabi root and contain more horseradish, which results in a milder, less pungent flavor.
How is Wasabi used?
Wasabi is usually used as a paste and is prepared by grating the stem.
It is usually served with fish and rice in sushi preparation. It can also be used with sashimi or other raw fish or seafood dishes.
But the main use for Wasabi is in paste form alongside sushi rolls in Asia as well as other parts of the world.
Wasabi paste can also be used as a dip for soy sauce, added to sauces and marinades, or spread on sandwiches for an extra burst of flavor.
Wasabi can also be eaten raw, although this can cause diarrhea, and it’s just too spicy and pungent when it’s not accompanied by other foods.
Wasabi powder can also be used to coat roasted, or fried legumes, such as peanuts, soybeans, or peas, and this is usually sold as a snack food in Japan.
Wasabi: a brief history
Wasabi has been a staple of Japanese cuisine and medicine since at least the Nara period.
It is native to Japan and grows in the cold, clear streams of Japan’s deep mountain areas. Wasabi has been documented since this period 710-793 AD.
Wild wasabi from Mount Koya was transplanted by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kohbou-Daishi to the area around the Chuzen-ji Temple in Mie Prefecture sometime around the year 786.
This is when they started using Wasabi as food.
It is said that after the defeat at the hands of the Genji at the Battle of Dannoura (1185), the Heike warriors fled to the Kidani-kyo Gorge in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where they gathered wild-growing wasabi.
The warriors used this plant’s roots to season sashimi of yamame (landlocked salmon) and deer, as well as pickled and ate its stems and leaves.
In the Heian period, there was evidence that Wasabi was used mostly for medicinal purposes.
The term “wasabi” first appeared in the oldest Japanese encyclopedia of medicinal plants, titled “Honzo Wamyo.” This also suggests that medicinal uses of wasabi existed during this time period.
It was during the early Edo period that wasabi was likely first cultivated for home use.
A man named Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was rumored to have been a gourmet and to have lived a relatively long life, is said to have fallen in love with wasabi upon first trying it.
Because the wasabi leaf resembles the hollyhock, which was used as the Tokugawa family crest, he began cultivating it on his lands.
But the idea of using wasabi for sushi came about in the later years of the Edo period in the Bunka/Bunsei era (1804–1830).
Sushi became popular among the common people in Edo after the idea of making it by hand with wasabi caught on.
There were no cold storage options available at the time.
Wasabi was likely used back then because of anecdotal evidence suggesting it helped get rid of fishy odors, stymied bacterial growth, and averted food poisoning.
What’s the best substitute for Wasabi?
If you can’t get your hands on the real deal, you can always try the imposter!
The most common substitute is a mix of horseradish, mustard, starch, and green food coloring or spinach powder.
It’s not quite the same, but it’s close enough to fool most people.
In Japan, this fake wasabi is called “western wasabi,” and in the US, you can usually find it at specialty stores and fancy restaurants.
The challenges of Wasabi cultivation
Cultivating wasabi is no easy task. The plant is very sensitive and only grows in special conditions.
So, Wasabi is not the type of plant you can just plant in your garden and cultivate your own.
It takes up to three years for the rhizome to reach maturity, and any breakage of the brittle leaves can slow its growth.
To replicate the plant’s natural habitat, wasabi farmers have to carefully engineer their fields with rocks and gravel, and some have been in continuous production for hundreds of years.
Plus, growing wasabi in greenhouses or using hydroponics is expensive and not always successful.
So, if you’re ever in Japan, be sure to thank the wasabi farmers for their hard work!
How to grate Wasabi: the traditional method
Are you ready to take your wasabi game to the next level? Then you’ll need to get your hands on the right tools.
For a truly authentic experience, you’ll want to get a metal oroshigane grater.
But if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also opt for a dried sharkskin grater.
This traditional tool has two sides – one with a fine skin and one with a coarse skin. Or, if you’re feeling extra fancy, you can go for a hand-made grater with irregular shark teeth.
If none of those options are available, don’t worry. A ceramic or metal cheese grater will do the trick.
Now that you’ve got the right tools, it’s time to get grating! Don’t be intimidated – with a bit of practice, you’ll be a pro in no time.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Start with small pieces of wasabi. This will make it easier to control the grating process.
- Move the grater in a circular motion. This will help you get the most out of your wasabi.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Different graters will give you different results, so try a few and find the one that works best.
Grating wasabi the traditional way is a great way to add flavor to your dishes.
So, what are you waiting for? Get grating!
Why is Wasabi so expensive?
The limited availability of the mustard plant required to make wasabi is why it’s so expensive.
Since these plants are found only in a handful of places, primarily in Japan, transporting it worldwide is a pricey task.
Plus, wasabi plants are incredibly delicate and require cool, damp environments to grow.
It takes three years of attentive care for the plants to mature, and once picked, the root is grated or ground into the wasabi on your plate.
Wasabi is one of the rarest and most expensive crops in the world, and it’s no wonder why. This plant is traditionally only cultivated in Japan so there’s a scarcity aspect to it.
Growing wasabi is incredibly difficult and requires very specific conditions.
It’s only found in mountain river valleys, and the stems must be partially submerged in running water.
It’s no surprise that Nagano Prefecture, Iwate Prefecture, Shimane Prefecture, and the Izu Peninsula region in Shizuoka Prefecture are the only places in Japan where wasabi is grown.
Wasabi vs Horseradish: what’s the difference?
When it comes to fiery condiments, wasabi and horseradish are two of the most popular choices.
They’re both similar and come from the same plant family.
Wasabi is a Japanese condiment made from a root vegetable and is usually served with sushi. It has a pungent, spicy flavor that can be quite intense.
Horseradish, on the other hand, is a root vegetable native to Europe and is often used as a condiment for meats and sandwiches.
It has a sharp, spicy flavor that can be quite strong.
Wasabi is often described as having a more intense flavor than horseradish, while horseradish is said to have a more lingering heat.
Wasabi’s heat is short-lived, but it can still be quite intense. Horseradish’s heat, on the other hand, is more of a slow burn that can linger on your tongue.
So if you’re looking for a quick hit of heat, wasabi is the way to go. But if you want something that will linger, horseradish is your best bet.
Wasabi vs Ginger
Wasabi and ginger are two very distinct flavors, but they’re often mistaken for one another.
Wasabi is a Japanese condiment made from the root of the Wasabia japonica plant, while ginger is a root from the Zingiberaceae family.
Wasabi has a strong, spicy flavor that can be quite intense, while ginger has a much milder taste.
Wasabi is usually served as a paste, while ginger is often used in its fresh form. Wasabi is also much hotter than ginger, so if you’re looking for a kick, wasabi is the way to go.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more subtle flavor, ginger is the better choice.
Why put Wasabi on sushi?
Wasabi is a key ingredient in sushi, and for a good reason.
It’s not just there for a kick of flavor – it’s a powerful anti-bacterial agent that helps protect you from any nasty bacteria that may be lurking in raw fish.
The Wasabi paste is served on the side and not placed into sushi rolls.
Plus, it’s designed to bring out the flavor of the sushi, not cover it up.
So, if you’re looking for a way to make your sushi experience even better, adding a dab of wasabi is the way to go!
Is real Wasabi spicy?
Real wasabi is definitely spicy! It’s got a distinct pungent flavor that’s similar to hot mustard, but it hits your nose rather than your tongue like a chili pepper.
So if you’re looking for a kick of heat to go with your sushi, real wasabi is the way to go. Plus, it’s got a unique flavor that you won’t get from the fake stuff.
So if you’re a fan of spice, the answer is a resounding yes!
What does Wasabi do to your body?
Wasabi is a spicy condiment that packs a punch! It’s known to bring a tear to your eye and clear your sinuses, but that’s not all it can do.
Wasabi can also give you a unique sensation that’s hard to describe – some say it’s like a tingly feeling that starts in your nose and travels down your throat. It’s best described as a burn.
Plus, it’s totally safe to eat, so you don’t have to worry about any nasty side-effects.
So if you’re feeling adventurous, why not give wasabi a try? It’s sure to make your taste buds tingle and your nose run – but in a good way!
Is Wasabi good for you?
Yes, wasabi is definitely good for you! It’s packed with all sorts of vitamins and minerals that your body needs, like vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.
Plus, it’s low in calories and fat, so you can enjoy it without worrying about packing on the pounds.
Also, it’s got a kick of flavor that’ll make your taste buds dance! So go ahead and give it a try – you won’t regret it.
Wasabi is also a great way to add some zing to your meals.
It’s a great addition to sushi, salads, and stir-fries, and it can even be used as a condiment for grilled meats and fish.
Plus, it’s a great way to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals without having to take a supplement.
Can eating too much Wasabi hurt you?
Yes, eating too much wasabi can hurt you!
Consuming large amounts of wasabi can cause a burning sensation in your throat and nose, and in some cases, it can even lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
So, if you’re not careful, you could end up with a stomachache and a sore throat.
If you’re a wasabi fan, it’s best to enjoy it in moderation. Otherwise, you may end up regretting it!
Is real Wasabi white or green?
Real wasabi is green, not white. It’s made from a plant called Wasabia japonica, which is native to Japan, China, and Taiwan.
The plant is grated into a paste and mixed with water to create a paste that is naturally green. But what you’ll find in most restaurants isn’t real wasabi.
It’s a mixture of horseradish, mustard, starch, and green food coloring or spinach powder. It’s labeled as wasabi, but it doesn’t contain any part of the wasabi plant.
The only difference between the two is color – real wasabi is green, while the fake stuff is white. So if you’re looking for the real deal, make sure it’s green!
Is Wasabi hotter than chili?
Is wasabi hotter than chili?
Well, that depends on who you ask. Wasabi is known for its intense heat, but it’s not quite as hot as chili peppers.
Real wasabi is made from the root of the Wasabia japonica plant, which is native to Japan and can be difficult to grow.
It has a unique flavor and aroma that’s much more subtle than that of chili peppers.
So if you’re looking for a spicy kick, chili peppers are the way to go. But if you want something with a bit of a bite and a unique flavor, then wasabi is the way to go.
Why does Wasabi go to your brain?
When we eat wasabi or horseradish, the allyl isothiocyanate vapors travel up into our nasal cavity.
This triggers a nerve response in our nose and sinuses, which then sends a message to our brain.
In other words, when wasabi comes into contact with a nerve cell outfitted with a TRPA1 receptor, it’s like the nerve cell is shouting to the brain: “Ouch!”
So, why does wasabi go to your brain? Well, it’s because of the isothyocyanates in the wasabi that activate the TRPA1 receptor.
And, when that happens, the brain gets the message that something spicy is going on!
Is too much Wasabi toxic?
No, too much wasabi won’t kill you!
While it’s true that it can cause some temporary discomfort, like a burning sensation in your throat and nose, it’s not toxic or addictive.
So, if you’re feeling brave, go ahead and eat as much as you want!
Just be warned that it might not be the best idea to chow down on a spoonful of wasabi – you might end up regretting it.
But if you’re a fan of spicy food, then you should be able to handle it without any major issues.
Is Wasabi Japanese or Chinese?
Wasabi is a Japanese delicacy, but it’s not just any old Japanese food.
It’s a pungent paste made from the ground rhizomes of the wasabi plant, which is native to Japan, South Korea, and Sakhalin, Russia.
So, if you’re looking for a spicy kick to your sushi, you know where to go!
But don’t be fooled – wasabi isn’t Chinese.
It’s a unique flavor that’s only found in Japan, and it’s definitely worth trying if you’re looking for something a little different.
In conclusion, wasabi is a traditional condiment in Japanese cuisine that is known for its sharp, pungent flavor and vibrant green color.
It is made from the stem of the wasabi plant and is typically served with sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese dishes.
While authentic wasabi can be difficult to find and expensive, a popular alternative is wasabi powder, which can be mixed with water to create a paste that has a similar flavor profile.
Wasabi adds a spicy kick to dishes and can be used in a variety of ways, from dipping sauces to marinades.
Whether made from fresh wasabi root or in powder form, wasabi is a unique and flavorful addition to many different cuisines.
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.