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Wasabi (Japanese: わさび, 山葵 (originally written 和佐比)) ; Wasabia japonica, Cochlearia wasabi, or Eutrema japonica) is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes mustard, horseradish and cabbages. Known as "Japanese horseradish", its root is used as a spice and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard than the capsaicin in a chili pepper, producing vapors that irritate the nasal passages more than the tongue. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. There are also other species used, such as W. koreana, and W. tetsuigi. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are W. japonica var. Duruma and Mazuma, but there are many others.
Additional recommended knowledge
Wasabi is generally sold either in the form of a root (real wasabi), which must be very finely grated before use, or as a ready-to-use paste (horseradish, mustard and food coloring), usually in tubes approximately the size and shape of travel toothpaste tubes. Once the paste is prepared it should remain covered until served to protect the flavor from evaporation. For this reason, sushi chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice.
Fresh leaves of wasabi can also be eaten and have some of the hot flavor of wasabi roots. They can be eaten as wasabi salad by pickling overnight with a salt and vinegar based dressing, or by quickly boiling them with a little soy sauce. Additionally, the leaves can be battered and deep-fried into chips.
For those who mistakenly consume too much of this condiment, the burning sensations it can induce are short-lived compared to the effects of chili peppers, especially when water is used to remove the spicy flavor.
Wasabi is often served with sushi or sashimi, usually accompanied with soy sauce. The two are sometimes mixed to form a single dipping sauce known as Wasabi-joyu. Legumes (or peas) may be roasted or fried, then coated with a wasabi-like mixture (usually an imitation); these are then eaten as an eye-watering "in the hand" snack.
Wasabi Ice Cream is a recent but increasingly popular innovation.
Wasabi and imitations
Almost all sushi bars in America and Japan serve imitation (seiyō) wasabi (see Etymology section, below) because authentic wasabi is extremely expensive. Few people, even in Japan, realize that the wasabi that they consume is in fact an imitation. Although very hard to find, real wasabi powder (from Wasabia japonica plant) is a convenient way to experience true wasabi's remarkable flavor, but most commercially available "wasabi" powders contain no true wasabi at all. Most utilize a powdered imitation made from horseradish, mustard seed, and green food coloring (sometimes Spirulina). Whether real or imitation the powder is mixed with an equal amount of water to make a paste.
To distinguish between the true variety of wasabi and the imitation product, real wasabi is known in Japan as hon-wasabi (本山葵), meaning original or true wasabi. Local Sushi chefs usually substitute horseradish in Japanese restaurants.
The chemicals in wasabi that provide its unique flavor are the isothiocyanates, including:
Research has shown that isothiocyanates have beneficial effects such as inhibiting microbe growth. This may partially explain why wasabi is traditionally served with seafood, which spoils quickly. However, if the quality of seafood is questionable, it should not be eaten raw, with or without wasabi. It is not a treatment for food poisoning.
Few places are suitable for large-scale wasabi cultivation, and cultivation is difficult even in ideal conditions. In Japan, wasabi is cultivated mainly in these regions:
There are also numerous artificially cultivated facilities as far north as Hokkaidō and as far south as Kyūshū. The demand for real wasabi is very high. Japan has to import a large amount of it from:
In North America, a handful of companies and small farmers are successfully pursuing the trend by cultivating Wasabia japonica. While only the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains provide the right balance of climate and water for natural cultivation of sawa (water grown) wasabi, the use of hydroponics and greenhouses has extended the range.
While the finest sawa wasabi is grown in pure, constantly flowing water, without pesticides or fertilizers, some growers push growth with fertilizer such as chicken manure, which can be a source of downstream pollution if not properly managed.
Wasabi is often grated with a metal oroshigane, but some prefer to use a more traditional tool made of dried sharkskin (鮫皮) with fine skin on one side and coarse skin on the other. A hand-made grater with irregular teeth can also be used. If a shark-skin grater is unavailable, ceramic is usually preferred.
The two kanji characters "山" and "葵" do not correspond to their pronunciation: as such it is an example of gikun. The two characters actually refer to the mountain hollyhock, as the plant's leaves resemble those of a member of the Malvaceae family, in addition to its ability to grow on shady hillsides. The word, in the form 和佐比, first appeared in 918 in The Japanese Names of Medical Herbs (本草和名 Honzō Wamyō). Spelled in this way, the particular kanji are used for their phonetic values only.
In Japanese, horseradish is known as seiyō wasabi (西洋わさび?) ("Western wasabi").
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wasabi". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|