Tuesday, June 25, 2019

When Wasabi is Not Wasabi

Japanese Food

The Truth About Wasabi looks at the world’s most expensive plant to grow, and why few of us are actually putting wasabi on our take-out sushi. What remains equally puzzling is why fake wasabi (that green paste we all consume) is still called wasabi, when it is really not.
Via: The Atlantic & Youtube

Have you ever eaten wasabi with your sushi? Unlikely, says Edwin Lee in an article (“The Truth About Wasabi;” March 18, 2019) for The Atlantic, writing that most of us who think we are eating wasabi with our sushi are truly not; Lee says:
Most sushi eaters—even in Japan—are actually being served a mixture of ground horseradish and green food coloring, splashed with a hint of Chinese mustard. Worldwide, experts believe that this imposter combination masquerades as wasabi about 99 percent of the time.
The reason boils down to supply and demand. Authentic wasabi, known as Wasabia japonica, is the most expensive crop in the world to grow. The temperamental semiaquatic herb, native to the mountain streams of central Japan, is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Once planted, it takes several years to harvest; even then, it doesn’t germinate unless conditions are perfect. Grated wasabi root loses its flavor within 15 minutes.
Now that this has been clarified, the next question is where one can find the real thing, i.e., authentic wasabi. In North America, for example, you can order from Pacific Coast Wasabi Ltd., Vancouver, BC, which says on its site that the “[f]resh sawa-quality rhizomes grown in Washington state are not harvested until after your order is received.” The cost for 250 grams is $100. If you really want the authentic thing, and you can afford it, then it is likely worth the cost.

And the difference between fake and authentic wasabi is tangible; one site, Atlas Obscura puts it as follows:
Connoisseurs say that, unlike horseradish, the aromatic spice of actual wasabi enhances—but doesn’t overpower—the delicate taste of raw, fresh fish. The wasabi and horseradish plant are both members of the Brassicaceae family, which contain heat-packing chemicals called isothiocyanates (ITCs) that fill the nasal passage. While most of the heat in horseradish comes from an ITC known for its intense, radishlike pungency, wasabi contains a wide range of ITCs that have been described as “fresh, green, sweet, fatty, fragrant, and picklelike.”
For more on wasabi, go to [The Art of Eating].

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