Most of us think of Wasabi as the eye watering, nostril blasting vibrant green condiment that sits alongside the pink pickled ginger come sushi time. But how many of us know where the pungent paste actually comes from? We take a closer look at the origins of the unique Japanese ingredient.
First things first... When we talk about genuine Wasabi we're probably not actually talking about the green condiment found in your local Japanese restaurant at all. In fact, the BBC estimate that only 5% of the wasabi served in Japanese restaurants around the world comes from the rhizome, or root, of a wasabi plant.
There are a number of reasons for that including the difficulty in growing the wasabi plant, its volatility as an ingredient and above all the hefty price tag that comes with it.
Traditional Japanese wasabi has a more herbal taste than the mass-produced spreadable bright green paste found in sushi restaurants and supermarkets all over the world. Although 'real' wasabi is hot, but without the burning aftertaste, the problem is that it loses its flavour if you don’t eat it within 15 minutes of preparation, making it far from commercially viable. With a smoother and cleaner consistency, genuine wasabi japonica tends towards a more fragrant, nuanced taste thanks to the lack of mustard seed flour often included in the fake horseradish product.
So Where Does Wasabi Actually Come From?
Real wasabi is the pungent stem of the Wasabia Japonica plant that originated in ancient times in Japan in misty rocky Japanese riverbeds, and where it still grows today, primarily in the Japanese Shizuoka Prefecture as well as the Azumino plains of the Nagano prefecture.
The plant is not widely cultivated, given its picky growing requirements as well as the lengthy growing period to reach maturity. Its commercial growth has however been adopted in other parts of the world including China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia North America and even the UK, by ambitious farmers seeking a slice of the lucrative wasabi trade.
Want to take a look at wasabi's watery roots? Don your rubber boots and take a trip inside Japan's largest wasabi farm and tourist attraction, Daio Wasabi Farm in the Nagano Prefecture, and see how it's farmed before developing a taste for homemade wasabi ice cream.