What Is Wasabi?

If you’re new to sushi, you might be curious about the mysterious glob of green that comes with your roll. Well, that glob has a name. It’s wasabi! What is wasabi? Wasabi is a spicy condiment that will clear your sinuses that will keep you coming back for more. Let’s talk more about wasabi. 

What is wasabi made of? Is wasabi horseradish?

Real wasabi is made with Japanese horseradish aka Wasabia japonica or Eutrema japonicum. This is a totally different plant from European horseradish. Authentic wasabi is purely the grated Wasabia japonica root—nothing more, nothing less. Wasabia japonica is rare—so don’t feel bad that you haven’t had real wasabi. It’s tough to grow. “Fake” wasabi, on the other hand, is made of the easy-to-grow European horseradish (often powdered), along with thickening agents, and mustard powder sometimes. It achieves its green coloring by… take it away, next question!

What makes wasabi green?

Real wasabi made with Japanese horseradish is naturally green, albeit a much paler green than the wasabi you might be used to. The wasabi you get in, say, grocery store sushi is usually made with European horseradish, which is not naturally green. That kind of wasabi gets its vibrant, almost neon green color from green food coloring.

Is wasabi spicy?

Both real wasabi and faux wasabi are quite spicy. No matter which kind you get, that kick comes from an organic chemical compound found in both types of horseradish called allyl isothiocyanate. If you eat a large amount of wasabi, you can expect your eyes to water and you might feel like you got water up your nose. In certain cases, your head may turn into a cartoon steam whistle. So, it’s best in small doses. 

How hot is wasabi?

Wasabi is certainly spicy, but since it doesn’t contain capsaicin, you can’t measure its heat on the Scoville scale. However, according to the food blog Delishably, wasabi comes in at the equivalent of 1,000 and 60,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). That’s somewhere between bell peppers and Thai chili peppers. 

What does wasabi taste like?

Real, fresh-grated wasabi made with Japanese horseradish is aromatic and herbaceous with a pleasant, zippy sting that contains a touch of quickly fading heat. There’s also an underlying sweetness. It never quite overpowers, only adds to a dish. Faux wasabi, on the other hand, has a sustained heat that will forcibly open up your nasal passages. It tastes a bit like hot mustard or, well, horseradish—a little bitter and tangy and quite spicy. 

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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