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Why Wasabi is So Expensive?

expensive wasabi by Chef Ankit

As sushi is so popular around the world, it is natural that there would be a huge demand for real wasabi. Wasabi is a plant of the Brassicaceae family. A paste made from the ground rhizomes is used as a spread for sushi and other foods. It is similar to hot mustard in taste,in that it stimulates the nose more than the tongue.

wasabi by Chef Ankit

Wasabi is generally sold either as a rhizome or stem, which is finely grated before use, as dried powder, or as a ready-to-use paste in tubes. The part used for wasabi paste is variously characterized as a rhizome,a stem,or the rhizome plus the base part of the stem. 

In some restaurants, the paste is prepared when the customer orders, and is made using a grater to grate the stem.Once the paste is prepared, it loses flavor in 15 minutes if left uncovered. In sushi preparation, chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice because covering wasabi until served preserves its flavor.

Wasabi rhizomes are difficult to cultivate and only be grown in certain places, which makes the supply quite limited and the actual cultivation quite risky. The real kind of wasabi is the one that is made of grated wasabi rhizome, which looks like horseradish but is thicker and is green in color. 

What does wasabi taste like?

wasabi by Chef Ankit

Real fresh-grated wasabi tastes bright and green with a touch of quickly fading heat. It is pungent but delicate enough to let the flavor of raw fish shine. Generally, when serving sushi in  restaurants, the chef  portion wasabi onto each piece of sushi to balance with the strength of flavor from the fish.

Difference between real and fake wasabi?

The real thing will always taste better than the imitation. Real wasabi has a grated, gritty texture. Wasabi is often grated with a metal oroshigane, but some prefer to use a more traditional tool made of dried sharkskin. If a shark-skin grater is unavailable, cheese grater can be also used. 

Sharkfin grater by chef ANkit

Generally smooth, thick and paste consistency is a sign of imitation wasabi , because it is made with pureed horseradish. Fake “wasabi” burns much hotter and longer because it is made from horseradish and sometimes mustard. 

Why is real wasabi so expensive?

wasabi farming by Chef ANkit

Wasabi is mostly cultivated in Japan, but nowadays it has also popped up in North America. The Wasabi plant is incredibly hard to grow because it needs to be partially submerged in streaming water, not a common farming structure. The ideal temperature is 8°C to 20°C. In Japan, wasabi grows in rocky riverbeds. It is a sensitive plant that can be killed by small changes in environment or humidity. Each wasabi takes 12-18 months to grow, sometimes up to 2 years. 

wasabi farming by chef Ankit

This is the reason its cost is high and why you won’t see the real thing in most restaurants and definitely not at the grocery store. As the consumption of sushi has increased,demand for real wasabi has risen as well. Which has been driving the prices up quite a bit.

It is  difficult to procure real wasabi, for both the suppliers and the customers, which adds costs to logistics expenses. Real wasabi requires special storage conditions and thus increases the equipment costs when being transported, stored, and delivered.

Health Benefits 

wasabi by Chef Ankit

Wasabi contains calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and potassium , a powerhouse of vitamins.It has high levels of isothiocyanates – an antioxidant that offers a plethora of health benefits.It has zero cholesterol!

Uses of Wasabi

wasabi sauce by chef ANkit

Wasabi is served with soy sauce to enjoy with sushi.It is used as soups, and one of the best condiments for grilled meats and vegetables. It is also used as salad dressings, marinades, and dips and to flavor roasted vegetables..

Wasabi rhizome is often referred to as Japanese horseradish, so it would be good to keep that in mind when you go shopping next time.