Japanese Condiments: Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) in Tubes
Wasabi. Many people like it, many people don’t.
How about you? Do you like wasabi? The addicting pungent taste that tickles your taste buds up to your nostrils. If you do, are you sure that the one you are having is really the real one?
When buying a paste-form in tubes at supermarkets, I often find it confusing which one to choose. I always end up getting the cheapest one. I thought they were all same, made of wasabi plant. But taking a closer look at the ingredients, the first item on the list is actually “seiyou-wasabi”.
The word “seiyou” refers to “the West”, so my first thought is, “Western wasabi? Alright. Maybe it’s produced from western countries.” Upon searching about it, I learned that it actually refers to horseradish. Although wasabi is also called “Japanese horseradish”, these two plants are different from each other. Wait a minute. So, I’ve been buying fake one all this time? Oh, geez. :'(
Meet the real wasabi
Fresh wasabi root
(Photo courtesy of hfordsa)
Wasabi (wasabia japonica) is a very delicate plant, weak to direct sunlight and only grows in cool temperature environment. It is grouped into two based on how it is grown – “sawa-wasabi” and “hatake-wasabi”. “Sawa” means swamp or mountain streams, it is grown in the streams while “hatake-wasabi” is grown in the soil.
In Japan, only few areas produce real wasabi, among them are Nagano, Shizuoka, Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, and Shimane. Difficulty in producing it is the main reason why it is so expensive.
Why does it taste the way it tastes?
Wasabi contains sinigrin, which is an ingredient to produce the pungent taste, and myrosinase enzyme. Myrosinase enzyme is the one responsible for degrading the sinigrin into an allyl mustard oil (or allyl isothiocyanate) which is the pungent taste we know. But in order for this transition to happen, the wasabi plant must be crushed or grated finely since sinigrin and myrosinase enzyme are contained separately.
A common method used since the old days is to use a grater with a surface made from shark skin. Shark skin has a finer grating surface compared to a metal grater. But if you only have a metal grater available, one option is to chop finely with a knife after grating the wasabi root.
Its pungent taste is its way to protect itself from enemies. Although it’s ironic that this pungent taste actually improves food appetite for humans.
How is it used?
As you may know, it is usually used for sushi, sashimi, soba and steak. But not only that, you can find it also mixed with snacks and even as topping for ice cream.
What is “seiyou-wasabi”?
(Photo courtesy of avlxyz)
Known in other countries as horseradish, it has similar pungent taste as wasabi. Mainly produced in Hokkaido where it is also known as “yama-wasabi”. The color of a grated horseradish is white. It is mixed with green coloring to make it look like the real wasabi. And, since it is easier to produce compared to the real one, it’s mainly used as a substitute. “Kona-wasabi”, or powdered wasabi, is mostly made of horseradish.
“Hon-wasabi” paste tube product
I found this “hon-wasabi” paste tube product just recently. It’s a bit expensive compared to the regular “wasabi” paste products.
hon-wasabi (from Shizuoka), starch, table salt, vegetable fiber, vegetable oil and fat, sorbitol, flavoring, gardenia pigment, acidifier, (some of the ingredient contain soy bean)
It costs 216 yen (tax-included) compared to my regular one which I can get for less than 100 yen (already discounted):
“Seiyou-wasabi” paste tube product
seiyou-wasabi (horseradish), starch, sugar preparations, vegetable fat and oil, salt, hon-wasabi, sorbitol, alum, spice extracts, stabilizing agent (xanthan gum), alcohol, flavoring
Here’s a picture of Japanese wasabi paste and “nama wasabi” (horseradish) paste placed side by side.
Comparison between Hon-wasabi and Seiyou-wasabi paste tubes
Japanese wasabi paste on the left looks rough compared to the horseradish paste on the right side which looks smoother in texture. The one with real wasabi ingredient is green in color while horseradish is more like of a light brown color. (Actually, I have another image of the comparison between the two in twirl form. But I decided not to post it here since it looks more like of, you know… You get the picture?)
In Japan, you can find different brands of “wasabi” paste tube products with only horseradish, mixed with hon-wasabi or just hon-wasabi. Products from House Foods and S&B companies can be easily found at supermarkets.
According to Japanese Association for Processed Wasabi, if a product contains more than 50% of real wasabi it will be labed with “本わさび使用” (hon-wasabi shiyou). If it is less than 50%, it will be indicated as “本わさび入り” (hon-wasabi iri).
Once you squeeze out some wasabi paste from the tube, you might be tempted to form the tube back to its original form by adding air to it. You shouldn’t. Doing so will expose the wasabi paste to air that will cause to speed up its deterioration.
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