Wasabi root is one of the popular accompaniments to prepare several dishes specific to the Japanese cuisine. If you happened to visited a Japanese sushi-bar, and served an eye-catching light green condiment paste on the plate that when consumed resulting in a feeling like a gush of volcano eruption hitting through the nasal passages, sending your olfactory senses wobbly!
It is a small, perennial plant in the Cruciferous (brassica) or mustard of family plants native to the Japan. Some of close relatives of this root in the the same family are mustard, horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
Scientific name: Wasabia japonica.
|Wasabi root with sahakskin grater.
Photo courtesy: insatiablemunchies.
Wasabi is a small herb, growing about 2 feet tall from the surface with broad heart shaped leaves. Its cultivation necessitates suitable soil and environment conditions to flourish. Only a few geographical areas are suited for its growth. In the wild, it grows near natural springs flowing through woody forest areas. Fed by clean Abe river streams flooding the mountain terraces, Utougi in Shizuoka prefecture in Japan considered as the perfect place for its cultivation.
In general, rootlets from the old W. rhizome implanted again in the field. After about 18 to 24 months after plantation, its underground fleshy rhizome can be ready for harvesting. It root measures about 4 to 8 inches in length and about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. Its knobby external surface is green in color. Although all parts of the wasabi plant including its leaves, flowers and petioles can be edible, its prized rhizome that commands high price in the markets worldwide.
Wasabi root and plant parts contains many noteworthy plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.
Root wasabi has been in use since ancient times in Japan for its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Traditionally, Japanese employed it safeguard thier food and to kill harmful food borne bacteria, particularly in raw fish (sashimi) dishes.
As in horseradish, W. japonica root too contains many volatile phyto-chemical compounds, which give its much-famed biting character. However, wasabi contains many volatile sulfur-containing organic compounds at a higher proportion than horseradish root, chiefly allyl isothiocyanate which gives its famed pungent character. Some of the other major constituents in the rhizome are 3-butenyl isothiocyanate, and phenylethyl isothiocyanate. It has scientifically found that allyl isothiocyanate has anti-mutagenic and anti-cancer properties.
Reasearch study suggest that leaf extract of W. japonica relieved oxidative stress induced by Helicobacter pylori infection and stress loading in Mongolian Gerbils.
Likewise in horseradish, some of the volatile phyto-chemical compounds in this root stimulate salivary, gastric, and intestinal digestive enzymes secretion, and thereby facilitate in smooth digestion.
It is an excellent source of vitamin C. At 41.9 mg per 100 g of this vitamin, it possesses nearly twice the amount than that in horseradish (24.9 mg/100 g) Vitamin C is a powerful water soluble anti-oxidant. It helps scavenge harmful free-radicals from the body and may help protect it from cancers, inflammation, infections, etc.
Wasabi, in fact, is very good source of minerals such as potassium, manganese, iron, copper, calcium (128 mg/100 g), and magnesium. Potassium (568 mg per 100 g) is an important component of cell and body fluids which helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the powerful antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
In addition, the rhizome has average levels of essential vitamins such as folate, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid.
Fresh wasabi stems are rare ingredients outside of Japan. A renewed interest has been gathering strength in the cultivation, and awareness regarding health promoting properties of this rhizome across the world. In Japan too, only a small number of restaurants serve wasabi dishes and not many aware of the fact that the green paste (sauce) on the sashimi is not wasabi but actually a colored horseradish and mustard paste. Fresh root is available only from the selected farmers markets in and around Shizuoka prefecture in Japan.
If you find wasabi in your neighborhoods markets, buy fresh, firm rhizome preferably with the top greens. Avoid slump roots.
At home, keep whole fresh as well as unused portion of root inside the refrigerator, where it can keep well for about 2-3 weeks. As in other roots like radish, severe top greens from the root soon at home. Wasabi leaves and stalks, however, should be used quite early.
Before use, scrub fresh rhizomes thoroughly in cold running water to remove surface dirt, and soil. Peeling of skin may not be required. Just trim any protruding knobs on the surface.
Wasabi roots are one of the most sought after ingredients in the Japanese cooking. Although its leaves and petioles are a part of the cuisine, it is its green rhizome, which is actually the jewel in the crown!
As in horseradish, the pungency and hotness of wasabi may not be appreciable in the intact root. Crushing and grating its rhizome releases volatile allyl-isothiocyanate compound that can cause irritation to eyes, skin, mucus membranes of nose and throat. Vinegar or citric acid neutralizes pungency and stabilizes its flavor. In practice, it should be grated fresh to serve in the dishes. Fresh rhizome grated traditionally on a sharkskin grater in circular motion to prepare a fine paste. In order to appreciate its profound favor, freshly prepared wasabi served after about 4-5 minutes after its preparation.
Like in many other spices, wasabi too loses its flavor quickly due to evaporation of essential oils. In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, it is generally grated just before preparing dishes.
|Wasabi paste on sashimi|
Here are some serving methods:
Traditionally, wasabi is served freshly grated as paste on sashimi dish.
As in horseradish, this root too used in many preparations, including dips, dressings, salads, and sauces as an accompaniment with meat, chicken, and seafood.
Fresh wasabi leaves and stalks can be can be used in pickling.
Add its paste to mayonnaise, and lemon juice to prepare a refreshing dip to be served on asparagus, snap peas, French beans etc, and on grilled meats, seafood.
Prepare wasabi vinaigrette dressing to serve over salads.
Wasabi flavored chips are a great snack.
Allergic reactions to wasabi root are quite rare. However, some incidences of allergic reactions to horseradish and W.japonica have reported and if so it should be avoided in individuals who are intolerant to this root.
As in horseradish, W.japonica too can cause irritation to skin, mucus membranes, and eyes. This is due to the release of allyl sulphide gas (allyl-isothiocyanate) while chopping, crushing, or grating the root. Disruption of the cell wall activates enzyme myrosinase which when reacts with glucosinolates to form allyl isothiocyanates. Lemon citrus or vinegar check this reaction and stabilizes the flavor. Its effect can be minimized by using blender/mixer in well-ventilated place and wearing protective gloves and mask. (Medical disclaimer).
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Research articles on nutrition.
1. http://www.worldwasabicouncil.com/info.html (opens in a new window).
3. Comparison of flavour compounds in W.japonica and horseradish-pdf.
4. Leaf Extract of W. japonica Relieved Oxidative Stress Induced by Helicobacter pylori Infection and Stress Loading in Mongolian Gerbilsits growth.