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For other uses, see Wasabi (disambiguation).
Wasabia japonica 4.JPG
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Eutrema
Species: E. japonicum
Binomial name
Eutrema japonicum

Wasabi is from Asia and also Japan. Wasabi (わさび(山葵)?, earlier 和佐比; Eutrema japonicum/"Wasabia japonica")[1] is a plant of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. It is also called Japanese horseradish,[2] although horseradish is a different plant (which is often used as a substitute for wasabi). Its stem is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong pungency more akin to hot mustard than the capsaicin in a chili pepper, producing vapours that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are E. japonicum 'Daruma' and 'Mazuma', but there are many others.[3]


Fresh wasabi stems for sale at Nishiki Market in Kyoto
Wasabi crop growing on Japan's Izu peninsula

Wasabi is generally sold either as a stem, which must be very finely grated before use, as dried powder in large quantities, or as a ready-to-use paste in tubes similar to travel toothpaste tubes.[4] Because it grows mostly submerged, it is a common misconception to refer to the part used for wasabi as a root or sometimes even a rhizome: it is in fact the stem[5][6] of the plant, with the characteristic leaf scar where old leaves fell off or were collected.

In some high-end restaurants, the paste is prepared when the customer orders, and is made using a grater to grate the stem; once the paste is prepared, it loses flavour in 15 minutes if left uncovered.[7] In sushi preparation, sushi chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice because covering wasabi until served preserves its flavor.

Fresh wasabi leaves can be eaten, having the spicy flavor of wasabi stems.

Legumes (peanuts, soybeans, or peas) may be roasted or fried, then coated with wasabi powder mixed with sugar, salt, or oil and eaten as a crunchy snack.


Wasabi is difficult to cultivate, and that makes it quite expensive. Due to its high cost, a common substitute is a mixture of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food coloring. Outside of Japan, it is rare to find real wasabi plants. Often packages are labeled as wasabi while the ingredients do not actually include wasabi plant. Although wasabi and horseradish are similar in taste, wasabi is green and hotter.[8] In Japan, horseradish is referred to as seiyō wasabi (西洋わさび?, "western wasabi").[9] In the United States, true wasabi is generally found only at specialty grocers and high-end restaurants.[10]


The chemical in wasabi that provides for its initial pungency is the volatile allyl isothiocyanate, which is produced by hydrolysis of natural thioglucosides (conjugates of the sugar glucose, and sulfur-containing organic compounds); the hydrolysis reaction is catalyzed by myrosinase and occurs when the enzyme is released on cell rupture caused by maceration — e.g., grating — of the plant.[11][12][13] The same compound is responsible for the pungency of horseradish and mustard.

The unique flavor of wasabi is a result of complex chemical mixtures from the broken cells of the plant, including those resulting from the hydrolysis of thioglucosides into glucose and methylthioalkyl isothiocyanates:[14][15][16]

  • 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate
  • 7-methylthioheptyl isothiocyanate
  • 8-methylthiooctyl isothiocyanate

Research has shown that such isothiocyanates inhibit microbe growth, perhaps with implications for preserving food against spoilage and suppressing oral bacterial growth.[17]

Because the burning sensations of wasabi are not oil-based, they are short-lived compared to the effects of chili peppers, and are washed away with more food or liquid. The sensation is felt primarily in the nasal passage and can be quite painful depending on the amount consumed. Inhaling or sniffing wasabi vapor has an effect like smelling salts, a property exploited by researchers attempting to create a smoke alarm for the deaf. One deaf subject participating in a test of the prototype awoke within 10 seconds of wasabi vapor sprayed into his sleeping chamber.[18] The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the researchers for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi to wake people in the event of an emergency.

Nutritional information[edit]

One hundred grams of wasabi stem contains:[19]

  • Energy: 460 kJ (109 kcal)
  • Fat: 0.63 g
  • Carbohydrates: 23 g
  • Fiber: 7.8 g
  • Protein: 4.8 g


A drawing of a wasabi plant, published in 1828 by Iwasaki Kanen

Few places are suitable for large-scale wasabi cultivation, and cultivation is difficult even in ideal conditions. In Japan, wasabi is cultivated mainly in these regions:

2009 Wasabi production in Japan (metric tonne)[20]
Prefecture Cultivated in water Cultivated in soil Total
Stem Leafstalk Stem Leafstalk Stem Leafstalk Total
Shizuoka 295.1 638.2 4.5 232.3 299.6 870.5 1,170.1
Nagano 316.8 739.2 7.2 16.8 324.0 756.0 1,080.0
Iwate 8.8 1.5 2.4 620.5 11.2 622.0 633.2
Shimane 2.4 10.1 9.0 113.0 11.4 123.1 134.5
Oita 0.5 8.9 - 94.0 0.5 102.9 103.4
Yamaguchi 2.5 2.2 22.5 54.2 25.0 56.4 81.4
Others 65.8 48.1 61.7 108.0 127.5 156.1 283.6
Total 691.9 1,448.2 107.3 1,238.8 799.2 2,687.0 3,486.2

There are also numerous artificial cultivation facilities as far north as Hokkaido and as far south as Kyushu. As the demand for real wasabi is very high, Japan imports an amount from China, Taiwan, and New Zealand.[citation needed] In North America, a handful of companies and small farmers cultivate Wasabia japonica.[21]


Wasabi on a metal oroshigane grater

Wasabi is often grated with a metal oroshigane, but some prefer to use a more traditional tool made of dried sharkskin with fine skin on one side and coarse skin on the other. A hand-made grater with irregular teeth can also be used. If a shark-skin grater is unavailable, ceramic is usually preferred.[22]


The two kanji characters "" and "" do not correspond to their pronunciation in Japanese. The two characters actually refer to the Chinese word for mountain Asarum, as the plant's leaves resemble those of a member of Asarum species, in addition to its ability to grow on shady hillsides. The word, in the form 和佐比, using the characters' original Chinese pronunciations to approximate the Japanese word wasabi, first appears in the Heian period work The Japanese Names of Medical Herbs (本草和名 Honzō Wamyō?), written in 918. More can be seen under Kampo.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Eutrema japonicum (Miq.) Koidz.". The Plant List. 
  2. ^ "Wasabia japonica". MULTILINGUAL MULTISCRIPT PLANT NAME DATABASE, The University of Melbourne. 
  3. ^ Growing Edge (2005). the Best Of Growing Edge International 2000-2005. New Moon Publishing. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-944557-05-1. 
  4. ^ Lowry, Dave (2005). The connoisseur's guide to sushi: everything you need to know about sushi. The Harvard Common Press. p. 205. ISBN 1-55832-307-4. 
  5. ^ "One chefs return home and adventures rediscovering the culinary delights of Tasmania". http://tassiechef.blogspot.com. 
  6. ^ "Preparing, Using and Storing Fresh Wasabi". Shima Wasabi. 
  7. ^ What's That Stuff? Wasabi | Science & Technology | Chemical & Engineering News
  8. ^ Gazzaniga, Donald A.; Gazzaniga, Maureen A. (2007). The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium International Cookbook. Macmillan. ISBN 1466819154. 
  9. ^ The Sushi FAQ - Sushi Items - Wasabi
  10. ^ "CONDIMENTS — Wasabi: real vs. fake". 
  11. ^ Ina, K., Ina, H., Ueda, M., Yagi, A. and Kishima, I., 1989. ω-methyl thioalkyl isothiocyanate, in wasabi. Agric. Biol. Chem. 53, pp. 537–538.
  12. ^ H. Masuda, Y. Harada, K. Tanaka, M. Nakajima, and H. Tabeta, 1996, Characteristic Odorants of Wasabi (Wasabia japonica matum), Japanese Horseradish, in Comparison with Those of Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), Biotechnology for Improved Foods and Flavors, Ch. 6, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 637, pp 67–78.
  13. ^ http://www.freshwasabi.com/tech.aspx; accessed 11 February 2011.
  14. ^ Ina et al. 1989, ibid.
  15. ^ Masuda et al. 1996, ibid.
  16. ^ Arnaud, Celia Henry. What's That Stuff? Wasabi. Chemical and Engineering News, Vol. 88, No. 12 (March 22, 2010), p. 48
  17. ^ Zeuthen, P.; Bøgh-Sørensen, Leif (2003). Food preservation techniques. Woodhead Publishing Limited. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-85573-530-9. 
  18. ^ Levenstein, Steve. "Wasabi Silent Fire Alarm Alerts the Deaf with the Power of Scent". InvestorSpot. 
  19. ^ NDL/FNIC Food Composition Database Home Page
  20. ^ "(title in Japanese)" [Wasabi (Production)] (in Japanese). Portal Site of Official Statistics of Japan. 
  21. ^ "Wasabi: Why invest in 'the hardest plant to grow'?". http://www.bbc.co.uk. 
  22. ^ Andoh, Elizabeth; Beisch, Leigh (2005). Washoku: recipes from the Japanese home kitchen. Ten Speed Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-58008-519-9. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]