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Wasabi 山葵

(わさび ワサビ)

Botanical Name:  Wasabia japonica (Miq.) Matsum. [Link]
Wasabi is the most important spice, condiment and seasoning for sushi,
as well as Gari (seasoned ginger) and Sho'oyu/Nikiri (soy sauce.)

The origin:

As its botanical name 'Wasabia japonica (Miquel) Matsumura,' named by Prof. Jinzo Matsumura (松村任三, 1856.03.20-1928.05.04), who was a botanist of morphological botany, indicates that wasabi is an indigenous herb of Japan and mainly cultivated in cool plateau regions of Amagi district in the Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Pref. and Hotaka, Nagano Pref., or other overseas countries nowadays by transplantations.

Wasabi in kanji characters
Animation: How to write
Unicode: 山葵 (山葵)

The kanji characters of 'wasabi' above, the first is 'yama' (= mountain) and the second is 'aoi' (= hollyhock). Because the shape of the leaves look like those of hollyhock, the two kanji characters are applied. (There is another expression, 山薑, is the combination of 'mountain' and 'ginger' literary.)

Wild wasabi is seemed to have been utilized as a medical herb, an antidote to food poisoning, which is very useful property when served with fresh raw fish, since in the Nara era (710-793) already.  The term Wa-sa-bi ('wa-sa-bi') appeared in the oldest dictionaries in Japan, in Honzo-wamyo (本草和名, 918), the oldest botanical dictionary compiled in the Heian era (794 - 1185), referencing 1,025 spices of Japanese botanical plants, and also in Wamyou-ruijyushyo 倭名類聚鈔 (or Wamyou-shyo 和名抄, 931), the oldest Chinese (Han) - Japanese word dictionary consisting of 10 volumes.

The exact cradle land of wasabi cultivation is said to be at Mt. 'Wasabi-yama,' the headstream of River Utougi-zawa at Utougi(*1), Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Pref.  A story tells us that in ca. 1600 a villager found a wild wasabi by chance there and brought it back to home and successfully planted at a waterside that clear water runs.  As the cultivation was first started the place, a memorial stone monument with the inscription 'The Origin of Wasabi Cultivation' was built adjacent to Utsurogi Shop in 1992.
(*1) [ Utougi Map Japanese : 1, 2 ]

The first use of wasabi in sushi, for nigiri-zushi in particular, is also said Hanaya Yohei's invention in the Edo period, and such sushi had big hit all over the city then. Also Japanese buckwheat noodle (soba) or 'ochazuke' rice dish use wasabi as one of the main indispensable condiments. Nowadays, wasabi roll (wasabi-maki or namida-maki) that is only using roughly chopped wasabi in its inside, not of grated or paste, is found at some sushi bars.

Now the cultivation of wasabi is done almost all over Japan, mainly in the Izu Peninsla, Shizuoka Pref., and Nagano Pref., where Daiō Wasabi Nōjō Japanese, who is one of the biggest wasabi cultivation farms in Japan is located in Hotaka, Azumino City.


Wasabi powder
Wasabi powder 

A real and fresh raw wasabi is often called 'hon-wasabi' (real/true wasabi) specifically to differentiate from other fakes.  Once grated, it presents an excellent mild flavour and taste not comparable to a commercial tubed paste(*)or ones that are made from powdered(*)('kona'-) wasabi, those are prepared just from only (100%) dried and powdered (European) horseradish [Link], called "seiyo'o - wasabi," which is FAR different from the Japanese green and fresh horseradish, and they contain mustard and colorants as additives to presume the wasabi.

But such fakes are playing an important role today because the real wasabi is so precious and difficult to obtain.  Without such products, we cannot easily taste wasabi and sushi cheaper.  We should not and could not simply disregard such artificial fake wasabis, or they are also great as hon-wasabi indeed.

How to grate fresh wasabi:

To enjoy the utmost flavour of real wasabi, the most important factor is how to grate it and which kind of grater to use.

'Same-gawa' (鮫皮 - Sharkskin) Grater

Shark skin
Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) can not be or should not be simply grated by a normal metal grater, like for Chinese radish or for hard type cheeses, but by specially designed 'same-gawa' (sharkskin) grater.  The difference is obvious at a glance because the materials and roughness of the surfaces, their basic purposes and underlying conceptions on grating are completely different.

A metal grater is designed to cut the fibers of radish effectively as sharp as possible, and in this concept you should be better to use a handmade one rather than a machine made because of the difference of their cutting edge finishes.  The results are greatly different indeed.

Similarly, wasabi should be grated or finely 'kneaded' on the surface of microscopic coarse skin of shark, then wasabi gives rise to its own flavour and smooth texture incomparable.

The way and movement of grating is also different and very important.  For wasabi, simple reciprocating motion is not enough and additional swirling around action is desirable.

Projecting fine thorns of spiny-finned fish skin have the importance.

Metal grater
(Copper - handmade)
Shark skinScale: 1mm Metal graterScale: 1mm
Shark skin Metal grater


Wash carefully and trim off only the black bumps on the surface, or peel the outer skin as thin as possible if it is degraded, and grate first from the thicker side because this part is fresher and yields more spicy taste and beautiful color than the other inferior tip side.

Any time the most celestial pungent must be obtained from the part between leaves and stump, never simply cut off that part of leaf stems much.  A skilful way is to take off each leaf stem one by one and wash the residuals thoroughly. [Link Japanese]

Grated wasabi paste might be kept in a tight place, not a metallic, only for a few minutes to reduce some harshness and to get a milder flavour, or for the same purpose, a pinch of sugar could be put on the grater when grating.

grated wasabi
The rest unused part can be preserved in good condition up to one month in a refrigerator by enveloping with wet paper towel and film wrapping or dipping it in a cup with water.  Paper or water needs to be replaced every day.

You can see and ask to show a sharkskin grater used wherever at a good sushi restaurants, and they are using this kind of grater undoubtedly, not metal or ceramic one for this purpose.



Chemical ingredients. Sinigrin (C10H16KNO9S2), a glucoside found in the seeds of black mustard and included in the rhizome of wasabi, does not taste so much in itself even by nibbling, but after the destruction of cells by means of grating, it reacts with internal enzyme myrosinase and is hydrolyzed to produce volatile and pungent allyl mustard oils, giving the main characteristics of wasabi.

Calories & Nutrition Facts:

Hon-wasabi root (rhizome, raw) (edible part: 100 g, without leaf stem and lateral root base)
  Very high in dietary fiber, vitamin C
  High in potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B6
  Very low in sodium
  No cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar
Calorie 88 kcal
Water 74.2 g
Protein 5.6 g
Total lipid (fat) 0.2 g
Carbohydrate 18.4 g
Ash 1.5 g
Dietary fiber 4.4 g
 (soluble) (0.8 g)
 (insoluble) (3.6 g)
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium (Na) 24 mg
Potassium (K) 500 mg
Calcium (Ca) 100 mg
Magnesium (Mg) 46 mg
Phosphorus (P) 79 mg
Iron (Fe) 0.8 mg
Zinc (Zn) 0.7 mg
Copper (Cu) 0.03 mg
Manganese (Mn) 0.14 mg
Salt equiv. 0.1 g
Vitamin A (β-carotene) 7 µg
Vitamin E (α-tocopherol) 1.4 mg
Vitamin K 49 µg
Vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.06 mg
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.15 mg
Niacin (nicotinic acid) 0.6 mg
Vitamin B6 0.32 mg
Folic acid 50 µg
Pantothenic acid 0.2 mg
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 75 mg
Based on: Standard tables of food composition in Japan (Fifth revised and enlarged edition, 2005) [Link: Food Composition Database] Japanese


(*) Tubed paste wasabi (min. 1:1 wasabi content vs. horseradish):
A commercial product lists on its outside package so may ingredients by the descending order of their content amounts/ratios, according to the legal stipulations.  This means that the example below fortunately contains more than 1:1 of 'wasabi part' against horseradish's in their content ratios.
Ingredient indicated by order      Nature/Purpose Wasabi pasteContents
1 Hon-wasabi
Hon-wasabi (or Japanese horseradish) - probably most of this is smashed or cheap, and bulky parts of the stem leaves (dispositional) of real wasabi, in order to represent a real texture/appearance as much as possible, by means of making it finer particles (i.e. precious rhizome - body part is not so much included presumably.)
2 Seiyo-wasabi
horseradish, powdered, very cheap, pale white color and very bitter, which plays most part of the product
3 Corn oil
thickening/viscosity adjustment
4 Common salt
for a sweetening and offer a substantial taste
5 Sorbitol
as the sweetening agent
6 Cellulose
binder, extender/filler
7 Flavor
flavoring agent
8 Acidulant
for sourness
9 Colorants
red rice malt ['beni-kouji' for red coloring], turmeric [yellow coloring and taste] and gardenia [orange yellow]
10 Thickener
xanthan as a stabilizer and fastener
Product Name: Grated hon-wasabi (S&B), Net weight: 43g
Good for 1 year, keep in a cool and dark place, and must be kept in a refrigerator if opened
  Above will well be suggesting that the horseradish (less than 50%) plays a relatively great part of the product's taste.

(*) Powder-wasabi (0% wasabi):
Ingredient indicated      Nature/Purpose Powder wasabi
1 Seiyo-wasabi (Horseradish) pungency
2 Mustard pungency
3 Colorants gardenia [orange yellow], safflower yellow
 Product Name: Powder Wasabi (S&B), Net weight: 35g, Size: 50Ø x 55H mm (Inside: 35H), Powder bulk density: ca.0.5 g/cm3
Usage Use 1-2 minutes later after kneading with appropriate water addition
  This has no relation to wasabi, or just a horseradish.

(*) Tubed paste wasabi (100% wasabi, no horseradish):
Ingredient indicated      Nature/Purpose Wasabi paste
1 Hon-wasabi Japanese horseradish (probably including stem leaves part, and no horseradish)
2 Starch extender
3 Edible vegetable oils and fats viscosity adjustment
4 Salt taste-improve
5 Sorbitol sweetness
6 Acidulants sourness
7 Condiments bitterness
8 Colorants red rice malt ['beni-kouji' for red coloring], gardenia [orange yellow]
9 Alm bitterness
10 Thickener xanthan gum
 Product Name: Oroshi Hon-wasabi (Grated real wasabi), Net weight: 45g
Good for 6 months, keep in a dark place at room temperature
  Available locally (in Japan.)

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Updated on: 2009.03.05
Created on: 2003.04.05
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