Wasabi – no, not the chain of UK sushi restaurants. We mean wasabi, the green Japanese paste that you eat with sushi, alongside ginger and soy sauce. Some people love it; some people hate it. But the fact is that what you either love or hate may not actually be real wasabi at all. Tim Holm finds out more about the mystery surrounding this pungent plant.
Turns out that the lovely bright green colour in most commercially produced wasabi paste is artificial food colouring. And the main ingredient is usually domestic horseradish. Even in Japan, except in the finer restaurants, genuine wasabi can be hard to come by these days. Why is that? Well, the main reason has to do with the cost – authentic wasabi plants cost a lot more to grow than horseradish or other similar plants. So, what you generally buy in the stores may pass as a decent imitation, but it has none of the true goodness and flavour of the original thing.
Despite the numerous wasabi-related products that have flooded the market in recent years – including wasabi ice cream, wasabi nuts, wasabi Kit Kat bars (only in Japan!), and so on – finding a fresh wasabi root has been next to impossible; especially for those of us living in England.
Despite the numerous wasabi-related products that have flooded the market in recent years, finding a fresh wasabi root has been next to impossible
So what to do about this? Well, one way is to eat at a gourmet restaurant or shop at an upscale supermarket. But if you do that, you are probably still going to end up getting something that has been over-processed or produced from a powder mixture. To get the real good stuff you may have to look in a place you would never expect: a wasabi farm right here in Great Britain. Yes, that’s right – not Japan, but our very own United Kingdom.
The Wasabi Company was started a couple of years ago by a young entrepreneur who spotted the “root” of the problem, as it were, and decided to do something about it. In search of fresh wasabi plants from Japan, he wondered if they would grow in British soil. It was much to his surprise that they did – and they are thriving. The first official wasabi growers in the country, they sell natural wasabi rhizomes for grating, along with plants if you want to try and grow your own, and tools that you might need to get the most out of your root. Now being used in fine British restaurants (not just with sushi but in other dishes that require a strong mustard-like taste), you can find out more about this great vegetarian product at their website. It’s literally growing in popularity.