What is wasabi?
Wasabia japonica matsumura
Wasabi (sawa-wasabi) is originated in Japan, and traditionally it has been used as a natural herb. Now, wasabi is one of a primary condiments for Japanese dishes, especially for soba noodle, sashimi and of course for sushi. Usually, rhizome of wasabi is grated and used as condiment. Freshly grated wasabi is bright green color, and characterized as sticky texture with fresh scent and hot flavor.
Cultivation of Wasabi
Wasabi is very delicate plant, so it requires certain climate condition; such as cool temperature, mountain stream, etc. "Sawa" of "Sawa-wasabi" means mountain stream in Japanese language, that is why wasabi is often called as "Sawa-wasabi" It takes about a year to a year and half to harvest. Since wasabi is really picky about climate condition to grow, production area is very limited. Most of wasabi is produced in Shizuoka, Nagano, Iwate and Shimane prefecture in Japan. Cultivation of wasabi was started way back in ancient Japan history. There was a discovery of a very old wooden board from around year of 685, which has writing about wasabi. So, this wooden board proves that cultivation of wasabi has started at least 1300 years ago. Japanese oldest code law, "Taihouritsuryo" indicate wasabi was one of the things that people could render as a tax.
Flower of Wasabi
Wasabi flower blooms around beginning of spring. This flower is also edible, and pickled in soy sauce.
What is horseradish?
Armoracia rusticana Gaert, Mey.
Horseradish is originated somewhere around Mediterranean or Eastern European, and introduced to Japanese soil around late 1800s. In Japan, horseradish is cultivated mainly in northern part, and some plants became naturalized like a wild weed.
Similarity between horseradish and Wasabi
Horseradish and Wasabi looks totally different plants, but the chemical components of pungent flavor are exactly the same. Horseradish is 1.5 times hotter than wasabi in average, and often used as a flavor-enhancing ingredient for wasabi products.
The mechanism of Wasabi's "Kick"
Wasabi itself is not hot when you chew on it. It tastes more like bitter than hot. Wasabi's cell called sinigrin becomes hot because of the enzyme reaction that happens when grating breaks its cell. So, why is wasabi hot anyway? It is believed to be a protection from insects or animals, and also from various germs. However, wasabi protects itself with its hot pungent taste, which attracts the appetite of human beings. Isn't it ironic?
The graph on the left side indicates that how does the hotness of freshly grated wasabi changes. The hotness of wasabi is so delicate and evaporates easily. After grating the hotness and flavor rapidly increases and peaks within 5 minuets, and it gradually loses hotness and flavor right after very short time of peak.
Health effects of Wasabi
1. Deodorizing Effect:
2. Antibacterial Effect:
It has an antibacterial effect, so adding a wasabi to your dish may decrease the chance of you getting food poisoning.