What would you associate the term of “Wasabi” with? No wonder you will think of typical traditional Japanese dishes because Wasabi is an essential ingredient and condiment for Japanese cuisine.
Do you know there are several types of Wasabi?
The taste and flavor vary depending on the type and growing environment. Let’s learn more about Wasabi so that you can enjoy Japanese dishes more!
Wasabi is mainly divided into 2 categories, Western Wasabi and Japanese Wasabi.
Western Wasabi is generally called “horseradish”, which is cultivated in the region of Eastern Europe as well as mainly in Hokkaido in Japan. It’s also called “Yama (Mountain) Wasabi” and processed into tubed Wasabi or powder Wasabi.
Western Wasabi has sharp taste and unique earthy flavor. It’s typically used as a garnish for roasted beef, but in Japan it’s hardly used for sashimi or sushi except in Hokkaido.
Japanese Wasabi grows up around valley rivers or in moutains, and the former is called “Sawa Wasabi (Water Wasabi)” and the latter “Hatake Wasabi (Ground Wasabi)". Japanese Wasabi generally refers to Sawa Wasabi, which is used for sashimi or sushi.
Hatake Wasabi is mainly used for Wasabi-mixed pickles.
Japanese Wasabi (Sawa Wasabi) is widely used at sushi or sashimi restaurants in Japans, but might be hardly used abroad due to the difficulty of cultivation. It’s cultivated in limited places because it needs stable supply of large amount of clean water and low water temperature environment to grow up.
Nagano and Shizuoka are the top two prefectures for Wasabi cultivation, and more and more foreign countries such as the UK, Canada and Australia have started to cultivate Wasabi these days.
In the Edo period (1800s), Wasabi started to be used when eating sashimi or sushi to prevent food poisoning with its strong antibacterial effect. However, people got attracted to its flavor and studied how to grate it well to enjoy it more.
A good grater is a must. There are various kinds of graters and fine graters, especially shark skin graters, are ideal for Wasabi. Shark skin graters will maximize Wasabi flavor and make it smooth and creamy. This is why they are often used at top quality sushi restaurants.
For Wasabi, neither scum removal nor peeling is needed. These processes will spoil Wasabi's good flavor.
So first, just remove leaves and stems from the root, and wash the surface with a scrubbing brush gently. Then, drain it and cut off only big lumps. That’ it!
Here are the 2 important tips when grating Wasabi. First, “Do not put too much strength”. Second, “Grate it in a circular motion”.
Putting too much strength will crush each cell of Wasabi, which will consequently make it watery and spoil its flavor. Grating it gently can maximize the native flavor of Wasabi.
Grating it in a circular motion will make it into finer pieces, which will destroy sinigrin, a pungent ingredient contained in Wasabi, and make it mild. Then myrosinase, an enzyme contained in Wasabi will act and produce a unique sharp Wasabi flavor.
It is said that 30 minutes after grating is the best timing to eat Wasabi when its stimulating flavor becomes a little milder. However, after more than 30 minutes, the flavor will start to vaporize and disappear. So, in principle it’s the best to grate it each time before eating.
If you have some left, wrap it in a wet and drained paper towel to store it in a refrigerator.
Also, it’s good to put grated wasabi in a small dish and face the dish down in order to prevent the flavor disappearing.
Not only sashimi and sushi, soba is also often eaten with Wasabi in Japan. Eating steak with Wasabi and salt/soy sauce is popular as well. For roasted beef of course and soy sauce-based Japanese style pasta with shiso leaf, etc, the possibilities are infinite. Wasabi goes well with mayonnaise, so it can be useful to make salad dressings.
Not just to prevent food poisoning or parasites, but it’s also expected to promote blood circulation and metabolic system as well as to have anti-aging effects. This Japanese traditional condiment, Wasabi, will lead you to a healthy life.
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