What is Wasabi? Everything You Need to Know
Anyone who has ever eaten sushi at a Japanese restaurant already knows what wasabi is. It is a tasty condiment and has a surprising kick to it. You can feel the heat traveling all the way to your nostrils if you get more than a dollop of wasabi paste. However, there are still several things that many people do not know about this condiment. Find out more in this article as we bring to you interesting facts you need to know about wasabi.
Not Your Ordinary Horseradish
When people talk about wasabi, they often refer to that toothpaste-like condiment they buy from the grocery store. Many people do not know that authentic wasabi only comes from a certain variety of Japanese horseradish. It is not the horseradish that you buy from the grocery or the farmer’s market. This is the ‘Wasabia japonica’ or the ‘Eutrema japonicum’. They belong to the family of Brassicacaea plants. They are distant relatives of mustards.
Japanese producers of wasabi utilize the wasabi root or rhizomes of the plant. They grate the rhizomes using a special Japanese tool known as ‘oroshigane’. Old-fashioned wasabi-makers prefer to use an oroshigane that features dried sharkskin. One side of this is coarse, while the other is smooth. It is perfect for grating the wasabi rhizome to turn into a wasabi paste.
Nutritional Benefits of Wasabi
Not many sushi-lovers know that the paste they use in their favorite Japanese food is nutrient-dense. In addition to minerals and vitamins, processed Japanese horseradish also contains isothiocyanates. These are powerful antioxidants that can provide a number of health benefits. They can help protect you against certain forms of cancer. They can also protect the cells from oxidative stress. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Wasabi is also rich in zinc, potassium, and magnesium. There is vitamin C, too. There are also modest amounts of other minerals and vitamins. It is not surprising why the Japanese call wasabi a ‘wonder compound’.
The Wasabi Paste You Buy May Not Be Wasabi at All
We mentioned above that authentic wasabi can only come from wasabi root. We also mentioned that the type of horseradish that produces wasabi belongs to the same family of plants as mustard. That is why the wasabi paste you buy from the grocery may not be wasabi at all. It only looks and tastes like the authentic wasabi.
It is not easy to source Japanese horseradish. This plant only grows in Japanese mountain river valleys, often along stream beds. Because of the difficulty of their sourcing, authentic wasabi rhizomes can be very expensive. A single pound of this plant can cost around $75 wholesale. If you buy it from retailers, you can expect the price to be higher.
As such, wasabi manufacturers have to come up with substitutes. They often combine mustard with traditional horseradish and then add a few spices. This will mimic the aroma, taste, and flavor of authentic wasabi. One good thing about these products is that they are cheaper to buy.
Eat Wasabi, Real Quick
One of the reasons why authentic wasabi is expensive is that it is a highly-perishable food item. Once prepared, you have to eat it within 15 minutes. This will help ensure that you get all of the flavors of the condiment. Beyond this time frame, it would be like eating a mint-flavored toothpaste.
This is also the reason why authentic Japanese restaurants only make wasabi when a customer orders sushi or any other dish that calls for the condiment. They will grate the wasabi root right in front of the customer, further adding to the exquisiteness of the dining experience. This also helps preserve the full flavor profile of the wasabi paste. It also ensures that you will get the most authentic Japanese sushi-eating experience.
It Is a Versatile Condiment
People always associate wasabi with sushi, sashimi, and other similar Japanese dishes. However, this is a very versatile condiment. It can add a new dimension to the flavor profile of your dish. You might want to add it as a spread on your hamburger to give it that unique ‘kick’ that no chilies can ever replicate.
If you happen to get hold of the whole plant, don’t throw the stems and leaves. You can pickle them or sauté them with your favorite ingredients. They can also be excellent in salads as well as entrees.
Wasabi is a Japanese condiment that the rest of the world has come to love. Authentic wasabi paste is very easy to prepare. However, it has a very short shelf life that chefs have to prepare it only before serving the dish.