For sushi bar lovers, world wide, this information appears to be quite disturbing.
Winespeed: a 55% decline over the last decade in the amount of wasabi produced in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan’s “wasabi capital.” Wasabi—a delicate, bright green, horseradish-like, mountain plant—is a hallmark of Japanese cuisine. According to the New York Times, the steep decline is attributed to climate warming, unpredictable flooding, competition from cedar forests, and a diminishing number of growers. Some Japanese chefs believe that wasabi could eventually disappear within our lifetimes.
What they fail to mention is that the world’s best wasabi now comes from Washington state.
What is wasabi?
Wasabi (Wasabia japonica [Miq.] Matsum) is a perennial plant that is a member of the Cruciferaceae or Brassicaceae family (commonly called the mustard family) and native to Japan. Grown for its unique, enlarged stem (sometimes described as a rhizome or root), which is 2 to 4 inches in diameter and 6 to 12 inches long, wasabi has a hot, pungent flavor (Figure 1). Although this flavor is similar to horseradish (Armoricia rusticana), another perennial Brassica, it has a subtle difference in that it quickly dissipates in the mouth, leaving a lingering sweet taste with no burning sensation (Chadwick et al., 1993).
Because of its specific growing requirements, wasabi is an expensive product, and therefore often substituted with the more easily obtained horseradish. Many markets recognize “real” or “genuine” wasabi as superior and distinct from mislabeled “fake” wasabi that is a mix of American or western horseradish, mustard, soy sauce, and green food coloring (Conjecture Corporation, n.d.; Ransom, n.d.). When grated, wasabi forms a thick green paste and is commonly served with sushi, sashimi, and noodles. Its leaves and petioles also can be pickled or dried. Small or imperfect wasabi stems are dried and made into a powder used in foods such as crackers or as a processed condiment paste packaged in squeezable tubes (Chadwick, 1990). Though wasabi is a staple condiment in Japanese cuisine, it is used sparingly to enhance the flavor of European and North American foods such as specialty dips, salad dressings, nuts, and cheese. Wasabi thrives in cool and moist temperate climates. It is poorly adapted to many regions of the United States but does grow well in the coastal region of the Pacific Northwest. Wasabi is also very suitable for small-acreage production because it is a high-value crop. However, growers need to become familiar with the unique production requirements of wasabi.
It turns out that western Washington and the Pacific northwest are a perfect environment for growing wasabi.
Here is an ad from Real Wasabi:
Consumers of sushi know wasabi, or at least think they do… Truth is, most so called wasabi isn’t, and the majority of products claiming to contain wasabi don’t.
What typically passes for “wasabi” is a mixture of horseradish, food coloring, mustard, cornstarch and sadly, is a mere shadow of the real deal.
REAL WASABI is one of the rarest and most expensive crops in the world and is extremely difficult to grow.
If you are interested in learning about where organic wasabi grows and how it serves up such unique thrills to our taste buds, or perhaps you’ve heard of wasabi’s health benefits and promising hair growth properties, that have the scientific world buzzing…, you’ve come to the right place.
Experience the memorable Fiery Taste, Smooth Finish™ of authentic wasabi, but be forewarned 😉 like exposure to fine wines, one taste of Real Wasabi™ products may leave you forever dissatisfied with “faux wasabi” imitations.
Founded in 2010, Oregon Coast Wasabi is the biggest wasabi farm in the U.S., both in terms of acreage and production. Though it’s petite by commercial agricultural standards when compared to wheat or alfalfa farms, they have about 20,000 plants growing at any given time. That’s enough to produce anywhere from about 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of wasabi stalks, which are ground up to make wasabi paste.
According to friends, the American grown wasabi faced many challenges entering the very traditional Japanese culture and sushi business. But with time (and marketing), American wasabi has surpassed Japan and other parts of the world in taste and quality.