Wasabi - A spice Bomb
Sashimi, Soba, Sushi, order them and you’ll receive a tiny mountain, green heap of wasabi with every serving. It is an indispensable part of the cuisine. The scientific name for wasabi is wasbica japonica, it is native to japan, much like horseradish. Horseradish takes lesser time to grow than wasabi, wasabi takes up to 2-3 years.
For many who may not know, Wasabi is a stem which is grated into a paste and eaten. They say that the way wasabi is grated affects the taste, aroma and pungency. Wasabi should be grated from the stem, which is the freshest part of the root, grating steadily moving in circles. Purchased packed wasabi is not nearly as impactful as the freshly grated one. Hence high quality wasabi is usually grated in front of and before a customer starts to dine. The leaves and flower of wasabi is sometimes eaten as well. They are made into pickles as sunamono or tempura.
The conditions at which wasabi grows is suitable with Japan’s mountains. Water and mountains is abundant in japan. Mountain springs are full and flows down to create springs. Crystal clear water bodies are required for wasabi growing. Wasabi grows naturally in mountainous regions. The cultivation is very time consuming, as it requires to go into the mountains to reach the cultivating fields.
Wasabi is a delicate plant which will not grow until all conditions are met, like steady temperature, pure continuous flowing water – wasabi absorbs nutrients from water, if the water is impure, the wasabi becomes unhealthy, just the right amount of sunshine (ideally 30% sunshine and 70% shade) which are best found in mountains and valleys. Wasabi cultivators have a way to keep the water clean, the stone matt style- piling up stones and rocks and sand. The water from one field is filtered through the sand and rocks and flown to the next. A top quality wasabi can sell for more than 5000 yen per piece. It is harvested all year round.
From at least the 7th century wasabi was used as a medicine. It was a wild plant grown in the mountains which came to be cultivated. Tokugawa Ieyasu put rules on cultivation of wasabi, which made wasabi a precious medicine, which had anti toxic properties when eaten with fish and chicken, stimulates perspiration and cures colds. In 1800s it reached the common people using it in everyday cuisine. Back when there were no refrigerators, eating soiled fish could lead to food poisoning, wasabi hence helped as an anti-toxin to prevent this from happening. Fish has long been eaten raw in Japan, and wasabi is what has made it possible as it ensured that eating raw fish was safe to eat and brought out its flavor. That’s why it gained popularity in a country that loves eating fish.
Wasabi flavor has been used in more than just cuisine now a days, you can find, wasabi flavored ice-creams, kit-kats, peanuts, beer, potato chips etc, the flavor is not as shocking as the real one, but rather very faint and subtle to eat.
Wasabi has also reached international borders and has taken the spotlight.
I have seen many people taking a whole bite of wasabi and regretiing japanese food forever and pranked many into eating a mouthful. Everyone is shocked by a flavor you would never expect out of something that looks green. So next time, maybe not prank someone to hatred, try some wasabi with food and experience a literal mind blowing experience.