There has been a lot of media coverage given over to the topic of wasabi recently and the question of whether manufacturers are using the real thing or its poor relation, horseradish, in products like sushi. So, what is the difference between wasabi and horseradish and does it really matter?
History of Wasabi
Wasabi is a member of the brassica family, which includes the likes of cabbage, mustard and indeed, horseradish. Use of wasabi dates back to the 1st century and the Izu peninsula of Japan. However, there are some records that suggest it was eaten as early as 14,000 BC.
Wasabi Japonica, to give it its scientific name, was discovered growing wild in the clear, cool springs that are found in the Izu area of Japan.
When thinly sliced, the stem of the plant (not the root, as is often mistakenly suggested) imparts a strong, hot flavour to food that not only lingers on the palate, but also gives the sinuses a fair old jolt.
Over the centuries, China, Taiwan and America have tried to grow the plant, but not only is its cultivation steeped in mystery, it requires very specific conditions in which to grow. What’s more, it takes 18 months to reach maturity, so it’s not a product yielding instant financial gratification.
As you can imagine, this demanding plant ends up costing a pretty penny – somewhere in the region of £130 per kilogram, it is one of the most lucrative plants on the planet.
Another interesting thing about wasabi is that, once it has been grated or made into a paste, if left exposed to the air it loses its potency in 15 minutes.
So why not horseradish?
Comparing wasabi to horseradish is like comparing the best single malt whisky money can buy to a basic supermarket blend. Wasabi has a subtler, more aromatic taste that is not as overwhelming as horseradish.
Horseradish is a lot easier to grow and is, therefore, often used in place of wasabi. However, real horseradish is white in colour, so green colouring is added to it when it is masquerading as the real thing.
Yutaka is just about to launch the best wasabi on the UK market – it’s 46% wasabi compared to the average 2-3% you’ll find in most products. But don’t use it for one of the strangest DIY beauty tips to hit the internet in recent times – one beauty blogger has suggested that you can apply wasabi to your lips for that fresh-from-the-lip-filler treatment look. That’s definitely one we’d say not to try at home!