Wasabi is one of the most important ingredients of Japanese gastronomy. But the real wasabi has nothing to do with the substitute that is marketed in other forms.
- This product is obtained from a plant of which the rhizome or underground stem is used.
- It has a characteristic deep green colour and you can use it as a seasoning for sushi, sashimi and a host of other dishes.
- Wasabi has antibacterial properties, stimulates appetite and is very healthy.
- The leaves can also have other culinary applications, using them as vegetables, although their use is not as widespread.
Also, the spicy wasabi stimulates the nostrils with its fresh and potent aroma. The initial spicy flavor gives way to a sweet aftertaste, providing a blend of unique aromas and flavors.
Types of wasabi
Basically, there are two kinds of wasabi. The experts cultivate these two kinds in very different ways.
- The wasabi sawa (沢わさび), which needs to be planted in one aquatic medium.
- The hatake wasabi (畑わさび), which is planted in a field because it does not need so much water.
In the West, it is common to find substitutes derived from radish but they contain green dye. They are marketed in powder form as kona wasabi (粉わさび) and in tube form as neriwasabi (練りわさび).
First of all, the scientific name of the swamp wasabi is Wasabi Japonica Matsumura. It grows in semi-aquatic conditions. It produces larger and higher quality rhizomes. Cousine Chefs appreciate it a lot. It can only grow in certain areas of Japan where climatic conditions are appropriate.
Wasabi sawa cultivation is very expensive.
The temperature of the water must be between 13ºC and 18ºC.
The hatake wasabi (畑わさび) literally translates as field wasabi. You can cultivate this variety in a very different way.
It can grow in wet and cool soils during the summer. It has a higher nitrogen content. You can find some of these varieties planted in Europe. But the European product is not sweet and mild, like the Japanese, but bitter and spicier.
In most cases, in the West or even in Japan, a horseradish-based substitute with green dye is used as if it were wasabi. But this one has nothing to do with the real wasabi.
Then, the horseradish is cultivated in northern Europe and was also introduced in Japan during the era Meiji. Used to manufacture kona wasabi, a powdered substitute. You’ve also seen the neri wasabi, another available substitute in individual tubes or sachets.
How is wasabi used?
In order to use the authentic wasabi rhizome, is necessary to pull out one by one all the branches of the stem from outside to inside.
Next, peel the black skin on the outside of the subterranean stem, and finally, using a fine grater, grate the rhizome with circular motions to activate the spiciness and taste of the rhizome.
As a curiosity, the population grates the wasabi on wooden boards covered with shark skin called samegawaoroshi.
Wasabi of Azumino
The largest plantation of the highest quality authentic sawa wasabi is located on the Wasabi Daio farm in the Azumino wilderness in Nagano Prefecture. The farm has an entire century of history.
There are several mills built of water on the slope of the river that runs through the plantation, of which still one is preserved.
In Spain, it is already possible to find the mythical sawa wasabi from the Azumino area. Its price is around 200€/Kg for the general public, although restaurateurs can obtain a professional discount directly from the importer.
To make themselves known to the professional public, they will send a free sample to the first restaurants that contact them (while supplies last).
In conclusion, you have to taste the difference between authentic wasabi and horseradish substitutes.