Wasabi (Wasabia japonica)

Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. Its root has an extremely strong flavor and is used as a spice. The hotness is more like a hot mustard than the capsaicin in a chili pepper, producing vapors that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue.

Wasabi plants grow naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. In Japan, wasabi is cultivated mainly in Izu peninsula (Shizuoka prefecture), Nagano prefecture, Shimane prefecture, Yamanashi prefecture, and Iwate prefecture. As the demand for real wasabi is very high, Japan has to import a large amount of it from Mainland China, Ali Mountain of Taiwan, and New Zealand.

Wasabia koreana and Wasabia tetsuigi are the other species used to produce wasabi. The two main cultivars in the market place are W. japonica cv.'Daruma' and cv. 'Mazuma'. Wasabi is generally sold either in root form (which must be finely grated before use), or in a ready-to-use paste (either real wasabi or a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and food coloring), usually in tubes approximately the size and shape of travel toothpaste tubes. The paste form is usually horseradish since fresh wasabi is extremely perishable and more expensive than horseradish. Wasabi is often grated with a metal oroshigane but graters with the surface made from shark skin were exclusively used. If a shark-skin grater is unavailable, ceramic is usually preferred.

Fresh wasabi leaves can also be eaten and have some of the hot flavor of the wasabi roots. The burning sensation is a short-lived compared to the effect of chili peppers. Water can be used to remove the spicy flavor. The sensation is felt in the nasal passage and can be quite painful, and gives you teary eyes, though it generally lasts only a few seconds.

Wasabi is often served with sushi or sashimi, usually accompanied with soy sauce. The mixture of wasabi and soy sauce is known as Wasabi-joyu. Roasted or fried legumes (peanuts, soybeans, or peas) coated with wasabi-like mixture are eaten as a snack.

Wasabi plants growing on the Izu peninsula of JapanWasabi plants growing on the Izu peninsula of Japan
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Fresh wasabi rootsFresh wasabi roots
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Wasabi on metal oroshiganeWasabi on metal oroshigane
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A tube of wasabiA tube of wasabi
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Wasabi-coated peasWasabi-coated peas
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Wild wasabi plantWild wasabi plant
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