When you go to a sushi restaurant, for every sushi dish you order usually comes with a serving of wasabi. Wasabi looks like a green paste and has a unique spiciness similar to mustard. It goes great with sushi and most people mix it with their soy sauce prior to enjoying their sushi meal.
However, did you know that green lump paste that comes with your sushi is actually horseradish and not real wasabi? The first time I learned that what I originally thought was wasabi was actually horseradish with a green coloring, I felt betrayed and lied to. However, upon researching the reasons, I realized that this is the norm and I would either need to pay a lot of money at a super high end restaurant or go to Japan to enjoy real wasabi.
Wasabi and horseradish come from the same Brassicaceae family which is also the same family as mustard and cabbage family. Wasabi (Wasabia Japonica) or Japanese horseradish grows naturally in stream beds and mountain rivers in Japan. There are 2 ways to grow wasabi, either in river beds or water grown or in regular soil or field grown. What makes these plants so difficult to produce is that it requires a constant cool temperature of an average of 54 F all year long. Any temperature below 46 F or above 60F is considered too cold or hot for wasabi to thrive. Water grown wasabi constantly needs fresh, clean flowing water which is found in the mountains of Nagano and Shizuoka Japan. Due to the many constraints, not many places outside of Japan can successfully grow and produce wasabi. Whereas horseradish can easily be mass produced with less restrictions like its relative.
Due to the many constraints of Wasabi, Wasabi is considered one of the most expensive vegetations available on the market. According to Business Insider (https://www.businessinsider.com/wasabi-expensive-sushi-what-is-wasabi-paste-plant-2019-1), fresh wasabi can cost around $250 per kilo making it a delicacy that not many people can afford. So how is it readily available in all sushi restaurants around the world? Its because we are actually eating horseradish with green coloring. Most sushi restaurants use wasabi powder and almost all powdered wasabi is made out of horseradish or a combination of horseradish and mustard with other additives. Some companies may include some real wasabi powder but it’s a meniscal amount due to the high price of wasabi.
So why use horseradish as a wasabi alternative? Horseradish and wasabi share a similar pungency or spiciness. However, horseradish is 1.5 times spicier than real wasabi which help delivers the pungency that many customers love. Real wasabi has a milder pungency and has a sweet aftertaste which horseradish lacks. But most of all, horseradish is much cheaper than wasabi and can be mass produced to meet the worldwide demand.
Next time you eat out at a sushi restaurant, if you’re paying a premium for high quality sushi, it might be worth it to ask your sushi chef if he or she has real wasabi available. It may come at a price but experiencing real wasabi might be a good item to put on your bucket list especially if you are not able to travel to Japan any time soon.