The East London Garden Society

Wasabi

Fans of Japanese cuisine crave the taste of wasabi (botanical name ‐ Wasabia Japonica or Eutrema Japonica). It is 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. 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 to the 10th century, wasabi grows naturally in mountain streambeds. Wasabi is most commonly consumed in the grated form of a green paste as a condiment sushi, but it is used in many other Japanese dishes.

Having a strong, hot flavour that dissipates within a few seconds, leaving no burning aftertaste, it is not oil‐based so the burning sensation is short‐lived. Cultivating wasabi remains difficult and is expensive. Finding real wasabi plants outside of Japan, is rare.

Wasabi is not only celebrated for its culinary uses, but is also thought to have medicinal properties. Scientists believe it alleviates symptoms in disorders such as allergies, asthma, cancer, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases. 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.

The flavour of wasabi is affected by how it is grated. The traditional way is to grate it with a sharkskin grater, also known as ‘oroshi’ and resembling fine sandpaper. It is recommended to grate wasabi as needed, since the flavour and heat dissipate so quickly. As wasabi loses its flavour rapidly, you can gather the shavings into a ball to keep them together for easy use as a condiment and to minimise air exposure. Wasabi that has lost its flavour can be revived back to life by grating a little fresh wasabi into the pile and gathering them into a ball again, rolling between your fingers.

Wasabi devotees 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.