Real Wasabi

Many of you love Japanese food. Japan and Taiwan are my two favorite places in the world to eat Japanese food, especially sushi and sashimi. It is healthy, full of omega-3 and protein for you ketogenic dieters. Most importantly, it tastes good!  Which leads me to wasabi. The best wasabi in Japan is found in Nagano prefecture. Those of you who have gone skiing there know how pristine that part of the country is. It is rare for consumers outside of Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan to be served fresh wasabi with their sashimi. But before we get into why its rare, let's talk about what wasabi is. 

Wasabi is a fundamental flavor in Japanese cuisine. It is more than a condiment. This flavor is nearly as important as the umami you find in dashi. Real wasabi is not the green paste you find in a tube in your supermarket (nor does it taste like it). That's a mix of mustard powder and horseradish and food coloring. Wasabi is a rhizome, the stem of a plant that grows in the gravel bed of a mountain stream. All parts of the plant can be eaten. The rhizome of the plant, i.e. the rooted thick stem, is the accompanying flavor which enhances the flavors of raw fish. 

Fresh wasabi is so different from the green paste you get at the store. It is fresh, perfumed and slightly sweet.  When a little dab of fresh wasabi is placed on the in sashimi or nigiri, the combination enhances the fishes flavors - making a humble slice into something rich.  Fresh wasabi doesn't have the kick that makes your eyes tear (not unless you eat a lot of it!). That kick is from the isothiocynates found in wasabi and other plants in the Brassica genus.  In fact, with wasabi, its perfume has an extremely short shelf life. After grating, most of the flavors dissipate within 15-20 minutes due to oxidation. That is why the chef will always replace fresh wasabi on your plate after a period.  

 The "field" in which the plants grow in is literally a gravelly mountain stream bed. The stem of the Wasabia Japonica is where the energy of the plant is stored, it is also where the flavor is most concentrated. It takes 2-3 years before a wasabi plant can be harvested for sale.  The two pieces of fresh wasabi in the video took nearly a year and a half to grow. The wasabi plant is finicky. It needs shade and a constant source of cool mountain water to grow it. The stems of the wasabi plant can also be used and are often picked in sake and miso. It is so good on rice!

Here we are grating the wasabi in a ceramic grater. Typically its done on a same-kawa orshiki, i.e. shark-skin grater. The denticles on shark skin are tough and quite close together resulting in a finer grind. Don't get me wrong ceramic is good too and frankly a lot more practical and durable for a home chef.

If you are looking to visit a wasabi farm, visit Daio Wasabi Farm in Japan's Northern Alps. It is a working farm that is also friendly to tourists. There you will find all things wasabi, made with real wasabi.


Diao Wasabi Farm

Address: Japan, 〒399-8303 Nagano Prefecture, Azumino, Hotaka, 3640

Kent is a management consultant who has spent years traveling for work.  His refuge is looking for the perfect meal so that he can reproduce it at home with his wife and friends.