Great Japanese Herb

Wasabi is often referred to as Japanese horseradish, but the two are actually different plants. Wasabi is a perennial herb in the Brassica family, and it is the rhizome of the plant that is used. In Japan, the plant grows wild in cold mountain streams (its Japanese name means “mountain hollyhock”). It is difficult to cultivate under other conditions, but it is raised commercially in Japan in flooded mountain terraces. More recently in the United States, a handful of producers, primarily on the Pacific Coast, have succeeded in growing fresh wasabi in limited quantities.

Fresh wasabi, however, is still difficult to find in the United States, and it is usually prohibitively expensive. For use, the thick, green fresh rhizomes are trimmed, peeled, and grated. The aroma and flavor are sharp, clean, and sinus clearing. For wasabi powder, the rhizomes are dried and finely ground. The powder is often mixed with ground dried horseradish and sometimes mustard, but it is possible to find pure ground wasabi—for a price. Recently, fresh wasabi paste has become available from a handful of producers. Otherwise, instead of the prepared wasabi paste that is typically sold in small tubes, it is better to make your own paste with powdered wasabi and water, as the commercial paste usually includes artificial coloring and other additives. After mixing up a batch, be sure to let the paste stand for at least 10 minutes to bring out the flavor.

Wasabi paste is a traditional accompaniment to sashimi, often mixed with a soy dipping sauce, and it is used in many forms of sushi. It is also served with various fish dishes. The powder can be combined with other ingredients to make a spicy seasoning rub or marinade. And wasabi paste can be stirred into mayonnaise for a pungent sauce.

MEDICINAL USES: Wasabi is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.