Skip to content

Wasabi – Properties, Benefits, How it is made, Origin, Cultivation and More

February 3, 2023
Wasabi - Properties & Benefits

Original dishes, new flavors, unique ingredients… more and more people worldwide are captivated by the magic of Japanese food. Surely many will wonder where some of the exotic ingredients that we usually find in this kitchen come from, for example, its renowned wasabi. Questions like: What is this green sauce? Does it come from a vegetable? How can I prepare it at home?… They are widespread among wasabi lovers. If you are one of them and you want to know everything behind wasabi, keep reading below.

What is wasabi?

What is wasabi

Wasabi is a typical Japanese food sauce commonly used to season and accompany sushi and sashimi. This sauce is obtained by grating a very special tuber; It is the root of the wasabi japonica plant, also known as Japanese horseradish, which belongs to the Brassicaceae family along with horseradish and mustard.

According to Japanese legend, wasabi was discovered by a farmer hundreds of years ago in a remote mountain town. He decided to cultivate it and later showed it to a renowned leader of the time. The chieftain liked it so much that he declared wasabi a treasure that should only be cultivated in that area (Shizuoka).

Fascinating characteristics and facts about wasabi

    • The wasabi plant is native to Japan, where it grows along the banks of streams and mountains; it is a close relative of cabbage, broccoli, mustard, and horseradish.
    • Due to its special cold and mineral balance requirements, it is practically impossible to grow outside its native habitat (Japan, some regions of China, Taiwan).
    • Due to the scarcity and high price that the real wasabi root has reached, the commercialization of “ fake wasabi ” is more frequent in restaurants and supermarkets. It is usually a mixture of horseradish, mustard, soy sauce, and green food coloring, which can mimic both the flavor and the color of the root stem of freshly grated wasabi.
    • Wasabi is not actually spicy in its natural state. Once the root is scratched and turned into a paste, the hot vapors give a spicy sensation.
    • After being grated, the taste of real wasabi only lasts for 15-20 minutes. Hence the traditional way to use it is to grate the tuber just before serving.
  • The traditional wasabi grater, also known as oroshi, is wood and has shark skin attached. Rough shark skin appears to produce finer shards than metal graters.
  • The wasabi that has lost its flavor can be revived by adding some fresh wasabi and stirring until a homogeneous mix is new.
  • One way to tell if wasabi is real is to look at its texture. Real wasabi has a much smoother texture than horseradish mustard mix; the sensation it causes is felt more in the nasal cavity than in the tongue.
  • The leaves of the wasabi plant are also edible, and they can be fried or eaten raw as part of a salad.

Nutritional properties of wasabi

Nutritional properties of wasabi

Many are unaware that the tuberous stem of wasabi is a considerable source of potassium, calcium, and vitamin C. However, considering that it is generally used in small amounts, it cannot be classified as a significant source of nutrients.

Nutritional information (1 cup or 130 g of raw wasabi) 1

  • Calories: 142
  • Grasa total: 0.8 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodio: 17 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 30.6 g
  • Dietary fiber: 10 g
  • Azúcar: 0 g
  • Protein: 6.2 g
  • Vitamin A: 1%
  • Vitamina C: 54.5 mg (91 %)
  • Dosage: 0.5 mg (25%)
  • Magnesio: 89.7 mg (22%)
  • Potasio: 546 mg (21%)
  • Vitamina B6: 0.4 mg (18%)
  • Calcium: 166 mg (17%)
  • Zinc: 2.1 mg (14%)
  • Phosphorus: 104mg (10%)
  • Iron: 1.3 mg (7%)

* Percent Daily Values ​​are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Wasabi benefits

Wasabi benefits

The value of wasabi in food can go beyond its use as a condiment or accompaniment. It has been observed that thanks to its compounds, wasabi can benefit us with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and potentially anti-cancer properties. It is important to note that these benefits can only come from real wasabi, which is unfortunately not easy to come by. The wasabi they offer us in supermarkets and most restaurants is usually an alternative prepared with horseradish, mustard, and coloring.

Some scientists have begun to investigate the possible medicinal uses of wasabi. For example, several studies2 have observed that the isothiocyanates present in this plant have antioxidant properties and help alleviate conditions such as allergies, asthma, cancer, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases.

On the other hand, there are studies 3 that have demonstrated the antibacterial properties of Korean and Japanese wasabi, particularly effective against the bacterium helicobacter pylori, a frequent cause of gastritis and ulcers.

Here is a summary with some relevant benefits of wasabi:

  • It has anti-cancer effects. The isothiocyanates present in wasabi are potent phytonutrients that contain sulfur, a compound that has demonstrated its ability to neutralize cancer cells, reducing their negative impact on our body. Several studies have reported that isothiocyanates can help prevent lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and stomach cancer.4
  • Helps prevent tooth decay. Due to its antibacterial properties, the consumption of wasabi can help us eliminate excess bacteria in the mouth that leads to the formation of dental cavities.5
  • It has analgesic properties. Scientists have found that isothiocyanates in wasabi can trigger a reaction at TRP receptors, responsible for sending pain signals to the brain6. With this in mind, these compounds could help scientists develop new pain reliever treatments.
  • Supports good intestinal health. Eating wasabi helps kill certain harmful bacteria found in the intestine responsible for gastric inflammation and even the development of stomach cancer. It also helps to avoid food poisoning from consuming some dishes, so it is almost always served with raw fish. On the other hand, wasabi seeds are a traditional home remedy used to remove toxic substances from the intestinal tract, promote the passage of stool, and prevent complications from diverticulitis.

Other uses (non-medicinal) derived from the properties of wasabi are:

  • Eliminate harmful bacteria in crops. The wasabi plant has been found to have a powerful antibacterial effect. A study conducted at the Plant Cell Technology Laboratory of Chiba University in Japan noted that using wasabi in growing potatoes made these plants more resistant to disease7. Another study showed the same effect when applied to growing tomatoes8. Experts say that this property could be beneficial to manage natural diseases that affect the tissues of other plants and crops.9.
  • Preserve food. Due to its ability to kill and repel bacteria, wasabi is a natural antimicrobial agent often used to preserve raw fish. The isothiocyanate vapors produced by this tuber help deter the growth of bacteria and fungi, and mold.10.

Finally, another surprising use that some scientists intend to give wasabi is, nothing more and nothing less, in using its intense smell as a warning signal for disabled people. As explained, the spicy aroma of wasabi creates a prototype “smell alarm” for the hearing impaired, which works by spraying wasabi extract into a room when smoke is detected. In a preliminary study, 13 of the 14 test subjects woke up to the aroma within 2 minutes of the alarm being triggered – even one of these people woke up in less than 10 seconds11.

Quick answers to frequently asked questions

How is wasabi sauce made?

Wasabi sauce is straightforward to prepare. Just grate the root to obtain a fine paste. As it grates, the hot vapors are released that give the wasabi that spicy sensation.

Prepare authentic wasabi. To make homemade wasabi, you will need to purchase the fresh wasabi tuber. You can find it in a specialty supermarket or local Asian market. Once you have the root, follow these steps:

  • Wash it and cut off any leaves or stems it may have. Let it air dry.
  • Once dry, begin to grate the root with a fine strainer. Grate only the amount you want to consume at that time.
  • Now take the zest and press it with your hands until it forms a ball. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving to improve its flavor. It is recommended not to exceed this standing time because the taste of wasabi begins to disappear around 20 minutes after preparation.

Prepare homemade wasabi with wasabi powder. If you have wasabi powder instead of the root, follow these steps:

  • In a bowl, mix equal amounts of wasabi powder and water. Take into account the amount you want to get for that moment.
  • Stir until completely combined. The resulting product should be a thick paste.

Prepare a substitute for wasabi. If you don’t have access to the wasabi root or powder, but you want to replicate its flavor, you have to mix the following ingredients to form a paste:

  • Freshly grated horseradish
  • A pinch of mustard powder
  • A few drops of soy sauce

Freshly grated horseradish is pretty close to the taste of wasabi, although the consistency is never quite the same (real wasabi has a finer texture).

How to know if wasabi is real?

An organization is in charge of verifying and guaranteeing that the wasabi is authentic; Products that display the “Authentic Asian Superfood” certification mark on their label have been rigorously inspected and classified as authentic.

If this label does not exist, another way to know if the wasabi is real is through its texture. Real wasabi has a much smoother texture than horseradish-mustard mix. In addition, the flavor is felt more in the nasal cavity than on the tongue.

Some renowned restaurants grate the root in front of consumers to show them that the wasabi they serve is authentic.

What is the origin of wasabi?

Wasabi is said to have been cultivated for the first time domestically in Utogi, a mountain village on the upper Abe River in Shizuoka Prefecture, during the Keicho era (1596-1615). Apparently, a villager in the area found the wild plant, brought it home, and replanted it in spring near the village. Eventually, the roots grew, gained popularity, and the villagers began to expand their cultivation.12.

Because its aroma and flavor have the ability to counteract the smell of raw fish, the idea of ​​using it to flavor dishes like sushi came up. From there, the Japanese found that the hot wasabi vapors improved appetite and could prevent many cases of food poisoning (common from eating raw fish).

What is the wasabi plant like?

The wasabi japonica plant is a slow-growing perennial with a thickened, rooted stem (rhizome), long petioles, and large leaves. This rhizome serves as storage for nutrients (similar to a potato) and is where flavors tend to concentrate. The appearance of the wasabi rhizome is similar to a Brussels stem after the buds have been removed. Long stems (petioles) emerge from it, growing to a length of 12 to 18 inches and a diameter of up to 40 mm (1½ inches). These end in individual heart-shaped leaves, which can reach the size of a small plate under optimal conditions.

The leaves and stems of wasabi tend to be fragile. Damage from animals, field workers, or mishandling can cause growth to slow and even stop for short periods of time.

It can take up to 3 years for the wasabi plant to reach maturity. The root typically reaches 6-8 inches long and 1 inch in diameter in about 24 months.

How to grow wasabi?

The wasabi plant is almost impossible to grow outside of its natural habitat, as it has unique needs. It prefers cool, shady conditions; the most important thing for its cultivation is cold and flowing water. It does not grow in stagnant water. Its native environment grows along misty mountains; These streams overflow their banks frequently, creating the cold water flow that these plants need.

The other fundamental requirement for growing wasabi is shade, which is difficult to reproduce in most home gardens. Its great intolerance to sunlight forces it to be grown under shade cloth or a natural forest canopy. It generally requires a climate with an air temperature between 8 ° C (46 ° F) and 20 ° C (70 ° F) and prefers high humidity in summer.

Under optimal conditions, the wasabi japonica plant will reproduce by seeds. On commercial farms, the crop is usually extended by replanting small suckers produced as the plant matures.

In other parts of the world, companies using greenhouse and/or hydroponic techniques to grow wasabi have had limited success, and the resulting costs are often quite high.

What does wasabi taste like?

Wasabi has a robust flavor. The pungent and pungent sensation it causes in the mouth resembles a mix between horseradish, mustard, and mint.


+ posts

My name is Louise Hammond, and I am the creator of this website, a place to find information about tubers, bulbs and medicinal roots. In I show the properties, benefits, characteristics, photos and images, ways of growing and how to make delicious meals from starchy vegetables.