Wasabi

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Wasabi

Wasabi on metal oroshigane
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Magnoliophyta
Class:Magnoliopsida
Order:Brassicales
Family:Brassicaceae
Genus:Wasabia
Species:japonica
Binomial name
Wasabia japonica

Wasabi (Japanese: 山葵 or 和佐比; scientific name Wasabia japonica (syn. Cochlearia wasabi, Eutrema japonica)) is a member of the cabbage family. Commonly known as Japanese horseradish, it grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. There are also other species used such as W. koreana, and W. tetsuigi. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are W. japonica var. Duruma and Mazuma. There are many others though. It is green and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is different from that of chile peppers, which burn the tongue; wasabi produces vapors that burn the sinus cavity instead.

Contents

Consumption

It is sold either in root form, which must be finely grated before use, or as a dried powder which is then mixed with water to make a paste. In both cases, the hot taste develops after a few minutes; both the ungrated root and the dry powder taste rather dull. It is also sold as a ready-to-use paste, which comes in tubes approximately the size and shape of travel toothpaste tubes. Once the paste is prepared you should cover it until served to protect the flavor.

Fresh leaves of wasabi can also be eaten and have some of wasabi root's hot flavor. They can be eaten as wasabi salad by pickling overnight with a salt and vinegar based dressing, or by quickly boiling them with a little soy sauce. Additionally, the leaves are battered and deep-fried into chips.

Uses

Missing image
Wasabi_tube.jpg
A tube of wasabi

Fortunately for those who either through malice or unfamiliarity come into contact with too much of this condiment, the burning sensations it can induce are short-lived compared to the effects of chile peppers. When used as intended, it is also very tasty on roasted peas, or in small amounts on sushi or sashimi. Wasabi is commonly mixed with soy sauce to make a dipping sauce for sushi and sashimi. However, wasabi's flavor dissolves very quickly in water and the best way to enjoy wasabi is to apply wasabi after dipping into soy sauce or carefully avoiding wasabi from mixing with soy sauce.

Chemistry

The chemicals in wasabi that provide its unique flavor are the isothiocyanates, including:

  • 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate,
  • 7-methylthioheptyl isothiocyanate and
  • 8-methylthioocytl isothiocyanate.

Research has shown that isothiocyanates have beneficial effects such as inhibiting microbe growth. This may partially explain why wasabi is traditionally served with seafood, which spoils quickly. However, if the quality of your seafood is questionable, do not eat it raw, with or without wasabi. It certainly is not a treatment for food poisoning.

Cultivation

Since there is a severe lack of places suitable for large-scale wasabi cultivation, most of the "wasabi" served today is really just European horseradish dyed green, or a mix of horseradish with black mustard and chlorophyll for the same effect. In Japan, wasabi is cultivated in:

There are also numerous artificially cultivated facilities as far north as Hokkaido (北海道) and as far south as Kyushu (九州). The demand for real wasabi is very high. Japan has to import a large amount of it from:

Without proper regulation, wasabi cultivation can be a major pollutant to rivers as it usually requires fertilizer such as chicken manure and constantly flowing water.

Preparation

Wasabi is often grated with a metal oroshigane, but some prefer to use a more traditional tool made of dried sharkskin (鮫皮) with fine skin on one side and coarse skin on the other. A hand-made grater with irregular teeth can also be used.

Etymology

The two kanji characters "山" and "葵" actually do not spell anything close to wasabi when used on other occasions. The Kanji translates to "Mountain Hollyhock", as the plants leaves look more like a Malvaceae, and it does grow on a shady hillside. The word wasabi written as 和佐比 was the traditional Japanese name that first appeared in The Japanese Names of Medical Herbs (本草和名) of 918 and is pronounced wasabi.

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