Wasabi is a Japanese plant. It was only cultivated in Japan until around the turn of the 21st century when popularity and demand began to grow as exports of fish products and other Asian produce became popular in the US. Wasabi is sold as an underground stem – a rhizome, as a powder, or as a classic paste. The oldest evidence of it dates back to the 8th century CE where it was used mostly as an eliminator of fish odor, then in the latter half of the Edo period(1603-1867), it became custom to have with sushi and raw fish in Japanese dishes.
Species: E. Japonicum
Binomial Name: Eutrema Japonicum
The chemical in wasabi that provides for its initial pungency is the volatile compound allyl isothiocyanate, which is produced by hydrolysis of natural thioglucosides
The word “wasabi” can be found in “Honzo Wamyo,” Japan’s oldest encyclopedia of medicinal plants. This also tells us that wasabi was used medicinally at this time.
Wasabi is one of the most expensive crops on the planet. Wasabi goes for nearly $160 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Wasabi Buying Guide
You will have difficulty finding wasabi sold as a root in your average market, look for it in Asian or specialty supermarkets. Instead, it is sold as a powder or in a tube as a pasty condiment.
If you are lucky enough to stumble upon it look for firm rhizomes with no bruises or soft spots. Look for pale green roots with dark green leaves.
Wasabi Production & Farming in Texas
Wasabi production is scarce and in short supply. The reason for this is that it demands specific growing conditions. These conditions call for minimal to no sunlight, constantly moist soil with nutrient-rich water, humid weather, and temperature between 32 and 80 Fahrenheit. The largest wasabi producers in the US, Oregon Coast Wasabi, claim private cultivation is not difficult and can be done all over the US, which is true, however, the issue is that the required growing conditions make mass cultivation incredibly difficult in any region other than their native Japanese riverbed origin.
Because plants cannot move as you or animals can in the face of danger, many plants produce their own pesticides. Some produce thorns and bristles, some produce poison and others make bitter, spicy taste predators won’t enjoy. In fact, 99.99% of the pesticides humans consume, are the ones naturally produced by the plant itself.
Wasabi does an exceptional job of creating its own. Therefore, pesticides and other man-made chemicals are hardly used. Allyl isothiocyanate is a naturally produced oil found in the plant that gives it its pungent taste. It one of natures most effective natural pesticides.
Wasabi grows naturally along river beds in mountain valleys of Japanese mountains. Despite this, however, they are not aquatic plants.
Shizuoka and Nagano are two major sawa-wasabi producing regions in Japan. They account for 90% of all production in Japan. The regions’ abundant spring water and moderate climate make for perfect conditions. The Iwate prefecture has the largest production is hata-wasabi, accounting for 60% of nationwide production.
In around the mid-Meiji period (1868–1912), Izu City in Shizuoka Prefecture developed a method for cultivating quality wasabi called “Tatamiishi (rock matting) style.” The city ships this wasabi nationwide and is the leading producer of wasabi roots in Japan
Harvesting and packaging:
Every part of the wasabi plant can be harvested. The root, or rhizome, the leafy greens, the leaf stalks, and the seeds. Although seeds are incredibly difficult to harvest therefore is usually grown from wasabi starts. It is harvested by simply being pulled out of the ground.
Rhizomes can be harvested anywhere from 15 months to 2 years after planting, whereas greens can be harvested to eat every 6-8 weeks. When harvesting greens, always make sure to leave the little leaf in the center to continue growth. After harvesting the root will be covered in lumps and dirt. Wash the wasabi and remove the lumps, these lumps can be used as starters to produce even more wasabi.
It’s a sad story when the demand for a scarce recourse forces us to turn to alternative and often fake production methods. Wasabi is one of these examples. Much of the time ‘wasabi’ mustard or ‘wasabi’ arugula is what you’re actually consuming. Often times you’re just eating green-dyed horseradish. In fact, some of the wasabi you buy at the store may not have any hint to the fact that it is not in actual fact, real wasabi.
Wasabi rhizomes are grated down in order to develop the paste. This is also often turned into a fine wasabi powder, used for cooking and a number of snacks such as wasabi peas. Caution must be taken however when using and grating real, fresh wasabi. Wasabi will lose almost all its flavor if left out and uncovered for as little as 15 minutes. Because of this, restaurants often make their own wasabi paste to ensure freshness. Sushi chefs have also found, that if you spread wasabi in a thin layer between rice and fish, it will act as a sort of airlock and prevent the wasabi from losing freshness.
Fresh wasabi will last for about 1-2 days ina pantry and up to a month in the fridge given correct storage. Store fresh wasabi wrapped in a damp a paper towel in a zip lock bag.
Wasabi paste and wasabi powder will both last up to a year unopened in dark, cook areas. Paste should be refrigerated once opened. Some signs of expirations include water separation, foul odor, and discoloration.
Wasabi has a very intense, pungent and spicy flavor, making it a rather acquired taste. The green and stalks can bee cooked and enjoyed through sauteeing, blanching, steaming, raw and any other way you could prepare leafy greens.
Wasabi can be very helpful in giving food a kick, these perks have traveled far from Japanese cuisine into other everyday sauces and dressings.
Wasabi is a nutrition powerhouse, but since it’s consumed in such small amounts, nutrition is negligent and we don’t receive much of it. Its most major constitutes are water(96.1%), carbohydrates(23.5%), fats(0.63%), and protein(4.8%).
Perhaps the most beneficial compound in wasabi is called 6-Methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC) can be obtained by grating the roots of wasabi. Studies have revealed that 6-MSITC has a variety of benefits, including acting as an antioxidant, helping with detoxification, improving blood flow, and inhibiting cancer. In addition, it is found to be good for the skin and is used in cosmetics and other beauty products.
Incorporating wasabi into your daily diet will boost your health. Unfortunately, most of these effects cannot be obtained from wasabi paste in tubes because it has been processed with the addition of other ingredients, such as hon-wasabi and horseradish.