A member of the cabbage family (Cruciferous), Wasabia japonica is a root vegetable that is shredded into a green paste and used as a condiment in Japanese cuisine. Wasabi is a native herb of Japan, and it is mostly cultivated in the cool highland regions of the Amagi area in the Izu Peninsula, Hotaka, Nagano Prefecture, and Shizuoka Prefecture near cold running streams. The plant develops naturally beside Japan’s stream beds in mountain river valleys and has become an important part of the Japanese diet. There are many cultivars in the market yet Duruma and Mazuma are the most prominent.
Wild wasabi appears to have been used as a medical herb. It was ingested as a remedy to food poisoning, which could have been helpful when serving with uncooked fish. The word ‘wasabi’ emerged in the oldest vocabularies of Japan, including the oldest botanical dictionary Honzo-wamyo from the Heian period, and the root was also mentioned in Wamyou-ruijyushyo; the oldest Chinese-Japanese dictionary.
In stores, wasabi is commonly available as a powder or in a paste form. Wasabi has a hot and powerful taste that dissipates after a few seconds and doesn’t leave a burning sensation in your mouth. Identified as Japanese horseradish, its rhizome is grated very finely and mixed into foods as well as used as a condiment. Its flavor and peppery taste is closer to that of spicy mustard than of a hot chili pepper, creating fumes that burn the sinus cavity rather than the tongue. The fresh leaves of wasabi can be eaten as well as the rhizome; they can be consumed as a salad after undergoing one night’s pickling in vinegar and salt, or by rapidly boiling them with a small amount of soy sauce. The leaves can also be pounded and deep-fried into flakes or chips. The dried, powdered form of rhizome that is found in most shops has to be combined with water to form a paste before it can be used.
Wasabi is usually served with sashimi, sushi and noodle dishes in Japan. The ground root-like rhizome flavors many foods in Japanese cooking and its green color adds a visual appeal for which Japanese cuisines are well known. For the last twenty years, alternatives made of combinations of mustard, horseradish and food coloring have replaced the freshly prepared Wasabi, especially in Western markets, due to short supply of fresh Wasabi rhizomes.
Typically, in Japanese cooking, Wasabi is prepared by shredding the fresh rhizome against a coarse plane. Traditionally, Sushi Chefs will use a shark skin grater, as the material provides a fine, coarse edge with which to grate the Wasabi root. Many Chefs are in different minds about whether to peel or scrub the wasabi before grating it; each chef will have a unique preparation method that is no doubt of great importance to his or her cooking.
Fresh Wasabi is sweet and has a mild flavor that compliments soy sauce and fresh fish. Wasabi is a greatly cherished plant in Japanese cooking, and lately it has established widespread demand in western cooking because of its exceptional flavor. Used as a component in dips, dressings, marinades and sauces, wasabi is an adaptable spice and is swiftly becoming one of the well-loved flavors in Western cuisine. A popular use of the root in America is wasabi peas: the peas are fried or roasted, then covered with a combination of wasabi and other seasonings in which they are baked into a stiff coating. These are then eaten as an incredibly spicy and fulfilling snack!
Wasabi cultivation is supposed to have started at Mt. Wasabi-yama, the headstream of the Utougi-zawa River at Utougi, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture. Folklore states that in 1600 A.D., a village dweller discovered a wild wasabi plant by chance and brought it back to his village, planting it at a cold, clear river. In 1992, as the cultivation initially began to increase dramatically due to world demand, a commemorative stone monument with the writing “The Origin of Wasabi Cultivation”, was constructed adjacent to the place where he used to sell his wasabi.
Wasabi requires special care during cultivation. The plant matures to approximately 18 inches high, generating leaves on long stems from the peak of the plant. As the plant matures the leaves fall and at the point where the stems are connected a rhizome forms. The rhizome usually reaches harvestable size after 2 years. Because of the difficulty of cultivation and the time involved to grow a plant to maturity, the majority of the "wasabi" served nowadays is really only European horseradish dyed green, or a combination of horseradish with mustard powder and chlorophyll.
Demand for real wasabi is very high. Japan has to import large amounts of it from the Ali Mountain of Taiwan, Mainland China, New Zealand, Oregon and other small farms in the United States. Wasabi agriculture can be a major contaminant to rivers as it generally requires fertilizer like chicken manure and continuously flowing water with no regulation on what is being dumped back into the rivers and streams. The difficulty that comes of wasabi cultivation is unfortunate, since it is definitely a necessity when eating sushi, working together with soy sauce and pickled ginger (gari) to perfect the flavors.
The wasabi chemicals that provide its exceptional taste are the isothiocyanates, together with 8-methylthiooctyl isothiocyanate, 7-methylthioheptyl isothiocyanate and 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate. Studies have revealed that isothiocyanates have valuable effects such as reducing bacterial growth. This can partly explain why wasabi is habitually served with seafood, which spoils rapidly.
*SPECIAL NOTE* If the quality of your seafood is doubtful, with or without wasabi, you must not eat it uncooked. It is not a remedy for food toxicity!
Sinigrin is a component of black mustard seeds and the wasabi rhizome. This provides the main distinctive flavor in wasabi, oddly only after grating. An unprocessed rhizome does not have a strong flavor, since sinigrin must react with air before releasing the spicy taste so well loved in Japanese cuisine.
Real wasabi is one of the rarest vegetables on earth. Only a small number of geographical regions are suitable for developing wasabi, and most of these are not solely used to produce wasabi. Genuine wasabi is frequently known as hon-wasabi or ‘true’ wasabi, to distinguish it from other imitations that frequent the market and restaurant tables. Wasabi powders found in the market are made from different amounts of European Horseradish, Mustard powder, food coloring and preservatives. This kind of imitation wasabi is known as seiyo'o wasabi, which is usually a lot different in flavor from the freshly grated horseradish in Japan. True connoisseurs can tell the difference, but sadly many of us have never tasted the true ingredient.
Almost every sushi bar in America serves imitation wasabi, and in fact the majority in Japan do as well. The ingredient is so rare and expensive that most restaurants cannot even consider using the real thing and turn to cheap alternatives that many people cannot actually tell is different. Regardless of whether you use the real wasabi or an imitation, it should be used as soon as it is made into a paste. The longer wasabi paste sits out in contact with air, the quicker the flavor will disappear. A common sushi bar trick is to mix the wasabi powder with water in a tea cup or sake cup and then turn it upside down, thus protecting the wasabi from the air and ensuring it stays fresh for the duration of service.
Imitation Wasabi Powders are playing a significant role in sushi bars today. There are wasabi powders on the market that contain real wasabi as one of the ingredients; however since real wasabi is not very common most people will buy the horseradish version in stores. Always buy wasabi in a powder form instead of paste, to ensure that no additives have been mixed in. When you buy it in paste form there have been extra chemicals and preservatives added in to keep it moist and fresh. Not all ingredients are listed on all packages, so unfortunately you cannot trust the information on the packet. It’s best to choose the powder form and to know what you are getting! You should also check that that the green dye is a natural ingredient - Sushi Now! Brand wasabi powder has a great flavor and is made with all natural coloring that any sushi chef would be happy to serve. Try out our wasabi and see for yourself
Wasabi is very easy to use. Make an easy sauce just by adding our wasabi to ketchup or mayonnaise. For better flavor, mix our wasabi powder with water, cover and let stand for 10-15 minutes before adding this to any recipes. Most Savory foods can be great with kick of wasabi. Wasabi Mashed potatoes, Wasabi BBQ Chicken, or simply mix the wasabi with any salad dressing.
Honey-Wasabi Salad Dressing
¼ cup Soy Sauce
1 Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Sushi Now! Wasabi (Mixed into a paste)
3 Tablespoons Honey
1/2 Tablespoon Chopped Shallots
Juice from ½ lime or Lemon
1 Cup Olive oil
Combine all ingredients and mix until fully dissolved. Using a blender to mix these also works well. Serve over salad greens or use to marinate vegetables or meats.
Wasabi Chinese Chicken Salad
1 head Iceberg or Napa Cabbage (Cut finely or shredded)
4 boneless chicken breasts (Skinned, Cooked, diced) *Optional
1/3 Cup Toasted Sliced Almonds
1/3 Cup Sliced Green Onions
1/3 Cup Chopped Cilantro Leaves
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Seeds
2-3 oz Rice Flour Noodles (fried) optional.
1/4 can of Mandarin Oranges (Garnish)
2 Teaspoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
1/4 Cup Canola or Salad Oil
1/2 Tsp Sushi Now! Wasabi (mixed into a paste)
3 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
Mix all salad components except for Mandarin Oranges. In a separate bowl mix together the dressing ingredients. Mix Salad dressing with the salad until you achieve your own desired flavor. Some people like this stronger flavored than others. Garnish the salad with the Mandarin oranges.
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