Wasabi is one of the most wonderful, health-giving and yet misunderstood Japanese ingredients! The leafy plant has anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic qualities, as well as helping detox the body and even speed up the metabolism in the same way as chilli or cayenne pepper. However, many of the ‘wasabi’ products that you may find in the supermarket contain very little actual wasabi and are instead made from horseradish and green food colouring, therefore not only are you missing out on the plant’s special properties but also its deliciously nuanced fiery yet slightly sweet flavour.
Fresh wasabi paste is made from the grated rhizome of the wasabi plant, and makes an ideal accompaniment to sushi, rice dishes, sashimi and soups, while the broad green and purple ringed leaves of the plant make a zingy basis for salads – the delicate white flowers which bloom in the late spring can be tossed into salads as well, or even fried in tempura batter.
Although wasabi is native to the shady river banks of the Japanese mountains, the plant requires the exact same damp growing conditions as English watercress – and so, the Wasabi Company, based in Hampshire, now provides Europe’s only fresh wasabi rhizomes, plants and wasabi-based products.
You can grow your own plant, but it will take two years to reach rhizome-grating maturity, so ready-cut rhizomes are a better option. Fresh rhizomes last two weeks in the fridge, wrapped in damp cloth or paper towels as they need to breathe. To add to dishes, you’ll need a fine grater – shark-skin glued to a wooden paddle is traditionally used, but a small toothed metal or ceramic grater works fine. Grate in a circular motion to build up a paste, gather into a ball and leave to rest for five minutes before serving.
Fresh wasabi root can be bought online at The Wasabi Company, and The Japan Centre, and Whole Foods in London.
Wasabi is usually served straight, however for my salmon tartare on sushi rice, I mix it with mayonnaise ingredients, a little soy sauce and rice vinegar to make a lovely creamy wasabi mayonnaise – fusion!