Normally only made using a few percent of the real stuff, the substance sold or served to us as wasabi paste, or perhaps more recently found sprinkled on scrumptious roasted pea snacks, is in actual fact made up almost entirely of horseradish, mustard and artificial green colourings. This intensely fiery substitute paste that can be found nestled beneath the raw fish on your nigiri Sushi, and which can be known to deliver a powerful nasal punch if not used sparingly, is actually worlds apart in flavour from the fresh wasabi plant it has been created to emulate. Which indeed begs the question… what on earth is real wasabi like?
Wasabi japonica, which can in a way be compared to Western horseradish – hence the presence of horseradish in the more familiar wasabi substitutes – is a rare mountain root plant that is extremely difficult to cultivate. Unless the conditions are absolutely perfect – the environment, the temperature, the cleanliness and volume of fresh running water, the exposure to directly sunlight (talk about a fussy vegetable!) – the wasabi root will not be able to thrive.
Prized for its antibacterial properties, wasabi is most commonly used as a condiment for sushi and sashimi, helping to protect the body against potential infection and food poisoning that can be caused by the consumption of raw fish.
The real stuff, although known to also deliver a spicy nasal kick, is much milder than its synthetic companion, and has a sweet aromatic aftertaste not found in the artificial paste. Fresh wasabi with its innate sweetness has a versatility that has yet to be explored in Western cuisine. In certain areas of Japan you will even be able to find wasabi flavoured ice cream – now that is something I would like to try!
For a long time it was thought that fresh wasabi could only be harvested in certain ‘climatic’ hot spots of Japan, like in the cool flowing spring river waters of the forested Amagi mountain area in Shizuoka-ken just south of Mt. Fuji. However, through the development of cultivation techniques, and of course many years of hard work, wasabi japonica can now be found growing in the UK.
Understandably passionate and adventurous, the UK based enterprise The Wasabi Company started trialling the ‘hard-to-source’ and characteristically temperamental root about 4 years ago on a secret farm in the South West of England. Since it takes wasabi japonica about 2 years before reaching full maturity, only recently has The Wasabi Company been able to harvest its first yield of fully developed specimen.
So if you find yourself pining for the sweet, slightly fiery, and uniquely aromatic flavour of fresh wasabi, you now know where to go; straight to The Wasabi Company’s secret farm, or to their conveniently ‘not so secret’ online store that can be found at www.thewasabicompany.co.uk,