If you love asian dishes then you've most likely had wasabi — or think you have. But the truth is most people haven't had REAL wasabi because it is very rare on the market. Read on to know more about the unique features of real wasabi and how it's different from the common version served on the commercial food scene.
Can you even think of eating sushi without some wasabi? Well, we can't. So, it is a tad bit shocking to learn that the popular green paste added in most restaurants isn't the real deal.
Real wasabi, obtained from the plant Wasabia japonica, is very rare as the Japanese aquatic plant is difficult to grow. So, wasabi isn't as cheap as you may have thought. According to reports, adding a little drop of real wasabi to your sushi can add an extra $5 to your bill.
Across the world, most wasabi pastes served in grocery stores and restaurants, including the fanciest in your town, are fake. The paste is commonly made from horseradish, mustard powder, and food colouring. The green food colouring, alongside the nasal-clearing properties of the horseradish and mustard, mimic the real deal making the mixture the perfect alternative.
Real wasabi is made by grating the root-like stem (called a rhizome) of a perennial plant native to Japan, Wasabia japonica. The aquatic plant belongs to the same Brassica family as horseradish and mustard which explains why they look and taste alike.
However, unlike the more common horseradish, wasabi are extremely difficult to cultivate. Its seeds themselves are expensive and they often don't germinate as the plant is super picky about its environment. Exposure to too much humidity, too little water, or the wrong nutrients, can cause it to wither and die.
When the wasabi seed does manage to germinate, it has to overcome fungal disease and stem rot, which are conditions common among plants grown in wet conditions. Even if everything goes well and disease is avoided, it can take as long as three years for the plant to fully mature.
These ultimately make growing wasabi strenuous and ultimately rare on the market.
Once you get a taste of real wasabi, you'll understand the genuine difference between its flavour profile and the common horseradish/mustard mix.
Unlike the signature nasal-clearing feature of the counterfeit paste, authentic wasabi paste is spicy, but not that hot. Many describe its flavour to be more of a plant-like, herbaceous flavour/odour combination accompanied by sweet, green, and pickle-like odours.
If you're wondering if wasabi is good for you, the answer is a pretty resounding yes. In addition to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, wasabi can also prevent cancer as the compound that makes wasabi spicy kick also appears to bind to and kill cancerous cells.
Most amazingly, scientists say these compounds only target protein cells that are defective while leaving normal cells alone, making them quite effective. Wasabi also contains isothiocyanates which can neutralise carcinogens, inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells.
The best way to get real wasabi is to find some rhizomes in a traditional Asian market and them grate them into a paste.
Tip: A sharkskin grater works best to optimise wasabi's taste and texture but a microplane grater works averagely fine too.
For prolonged storage, keep the rhizomes in your refrigerator until you're ready to use them. They can last for a little over a month this way. If already grated, make sure to use the wasabi paste quickly as it can lose its rich flavour quickly.