Wasabi root is one of the traditional accompaniments to prepare several dishes unique to the Japanese cuisine. If you have visited a Japanese sushi bar, you most likely be served an eye-catching, light green condiment paste that when consumed would result in feeling like a gush of volcano eruption hitting through the nasal passages sending your olfactory senses wobbling!
It is a small, perennial plant in the Cruciferous (brassica) or mustard of family plants native to the Japan. Some of the close relatives of this root in the same family are mustard, horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.
Scientific name: Wasabia japonica.
|Wasabi root with a shark-skin grater.
Photo courtesy: insatiablemunchies.
Wasabi is a small herb growing about 2 feet tall from the soil surface and features 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 wooded forest areas. Fed by clear Abe river streams flooding the mountain terraces, Utougi in Shizuoka prefecture in Japan considered as the perfect place for its cultivation.
|W. Japonica root.|
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. Although all parts of the wasabi plant including its leaves, flowers, and petioles can be edible, its prized rhizome that commands a high price in the markets worldwide.
Wasabi root and plant parts contain 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 antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Traditionally, Japanese employed it safeguard their food and to kill harmful foodborne bacteria, particularly in raw fish (sashimi) dishes.
As in horseradish, W. japonica root too contains many volatile phytochemical 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 phenyl ethyl isothiocyanate.. It has scientifically found that allyl isothiocyanate has anti-mutagenic and anti-cancer properties.
A research study suggests 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 phytochemical 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 antioxidant. 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. The human body uses manganese as a cofactor for the powerful antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Also, 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 the health-promoting properties of this rhizome across the world. In Japan too, only a small number of restaurants serve wasabi dishes and not much 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 farmer's 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.
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 the unused portion of the rhizome in 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 the 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 whole root. However, crushing and mincing its rhizome releases the volatile allyl-isothiocyanate compound that can cause irritation to eyes, skin, mucosa 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 a 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 also loses its flavor quickly due to evaporation of essential oils. In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, it is generally mashed just before preparing dishes.
|Wasabi-paste on sashimi|
Here are some serving methods:
Traditionally, freshly grated wasabi, as a paste, is served on sashimi.
As in horseradish, this root too used in many preparations, including dips, dressings, salads, and sauces as an accompaniment to meat, chicken, and seafood.
Fresh wasabi leaves and stalks can be can be used in pickling.
Prepare wasabi vinaigrette dressing to serve over salads.
Wasabi flavored chips are a great snack.
Allergic reactions to wasabi root are relatively rare. However, some incidences of allergic reactions to horseradish and W. japonica have reported. It should be avoided in individuals who are intolerant to this root.
As in horseradish, W. japonica too can cause irritation to skin, mucosa, and eyes. It is so because of the release of allyl sulfide 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 a 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.