For other uses, see Wasabi (disambiguation).
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Eutrema
Species: E. japonicum
Binomial name
Eutrema japonicum
  • Wasabia japonica
  • Alliaria wasabi
  • Cochlearia wasabi
  • Eutrema koreanum
  • Eutrema okinosimense
  • Eutrema wasabi
  • Lunaria japonica
  • Wasabia pungens
  • Wasabia wasabi

Wasabi (ワサビ or わさび(山葵), earlier 和佐比; Eutrema japonicum or 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 generally used as a substitute for wasabi, due to the scarcity of the wasabi plant). 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] The origin of wasabi cuisine has been clarified from the oldest historical records; it takes its rise in Nara prefecture.[4]


Fresh wasabi stems for sale at Daio Wasabi Farm
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.[5] 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[6][7] of the plant, with the characteristic leaf scar where old leaves fell off or were collected.

Wasabi in paste form, usually served in sushi restaurants.

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 flavor in 15 minutes if left uncovered.[8] 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 favours growing conditions which restricts its wide cultivation. The resulting inability to be cultivated like other crops in order to fully satisfy commercial demand, thus makes it quite expensive.[9] [10] [11] Therefore, outside Japan, it is rare to find real wasabi plants. Due to its high cost, a common substitute is a mixture of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food coloring or spinach powder. Often packages are labeled as wasabi while the ingredients do not actually include wasabi plant. Wasabi and horseradish are similar in taste and pungency due to similar isothiocyanate levels.[12] The primary difference between the two is color with Wasabi being naturally green.[13] In Japan, horseradish is referred to as seiyō wasabi (西洋わさび?, "western wasabi") .[14] In the United States, true wasabi is generally found only at specialty grocers and high-end restaurants.[15]


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.[16][17][18] The same compound is responsible for the pungency of horseradish and mustard. Allyl isothiocyanate can also be released when the wasabi plants have been damaged, because it is being used as a defense mechanism.[19]

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:[8][16][17]

Research has shown that such isothiocyanates inhibit microbe growth, perhaps with implications for preserving food against spoilage and suppressing oral bacterial growth.[20]

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.[21] 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

Wasabi in paste form
Nutrition Facts[22]
NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g10.9
Carbohydrate, by differenceg46.13
Fiber, total dietaryg6.1
Sugars, totalg13.2


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)[23]
Prefecture Cultivated in waterCultivated 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. In North America, a handful of companies and small farmers cultivate Wasabia japonica.[24]


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.[25]


The two kanji characters "" and "" do not correspond to their pronunciation: as such it is an example of gikun (meaning, not sound). The two characters actually refer to the 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, appeared in 918 in The Japanese Names of Medical Herbs (本草和名 Honzō Wamyō). Spelled in this way, the particular kanji are used for their phonetic values only, known as ateji (sound, not meaning – opposite of gikun).

See also


  1. "Eutrema japonicum (Miq.) Koidz.". The Plant List. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  2. "Wasabia japonica". MULTILINGUAL MULTISCRIPT PLANT NAME DATABASE, The University of Melbourne. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  3. Growing Edge (2005). The Best Of Growing Edge International 2000-2005. New Moon Publishing. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-944557-05-1. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  4. わさびの歴史. Kinjirushi. 2001. Archived from the original on 18 April 2001. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  5. 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. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  6. "One chefs return home and adventures rediscovering the culinary delights of Tasmania". Tassie Chef. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  7. "Preparing, Using and Storing Fresh Wasabi". Shima Wasabi. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  8. 1 2 "Wasabi: In condiments, horseradish stands in for the real thing | Science & Technology". Chemical & Engineering News. 22 March 2010. p. 48. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  9. Wasabi is quite picky about its growing conditions. Real Wasabi. retrieved 25 th October 2016.
  10. Botany of the Wasabi plant. Page 161. New Zealand Journal of Crop and Horticultural Science/Experimental Agriculture 1990, Vol 18. retrieved 25 th October 2016
  11. Why invest in 'the hardest plant to grow'? BBC retrieved 25 th October 2016
  12. Tamanna Sultana; G. P. Savage; D. L. McNeil; G. P. Porter; B. Clark (2003). "Comparison of flavour compounds in wasabi and horseradish". Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment. 1 (2): 117–121. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  13. Gazzaniga, Donald A.; Gazzaniga, Maureen A. (2007). The No-Salt, Lowest-Sodium International Cookbook. Macmillan. ISBN 1466819154. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  14. "The Sushi FAQ - Sushi Items - Wasabi". Archived from the original on 9 August 2016. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  15. "CONDIMENTS – Wasabi: real vs. fake".
  16. 1 2 Kazuo Ina; Hiroji Ina; Mikako Ueda; Akihito Yagi; Isao Kishima (1989). "ω-Methylthioalkyl Isothiocyanates in Wasabi". Agricultural and Biological Chemistry. 53 (2): 537–538. doi:10.1271/bbb1961.53.537. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  17. 1 2 Hideki Masuda; Yasuhiro Harada; Kunio Tanaka; Masahiro Nakajima; Hideki 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. ACS Symposium Series. 637. American Chemical Society. pp. 67–78. doi:10.1021/bk-1996-0637.ch006. ISBN 9780841234215. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  18. "CONDIMENTS – Wasabi: real vs. fake". Archived from the original on 11 July 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  19. Atsumi, A; Saito, T (2015). "Volatiles from wasabi inhibit entomopathogenic fungi: implications for tritrophic interactions and biological control". Journal of Plant Interactions. 10 (1). ISSN 1742-9145.
  20. Zeuthen, P.; Bøgh-Sørensen, Leif (2003). Food preservation techniques. Woodhead Publishing Limited. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-85573-530-9. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  21. Levenstein, Steve. "Wasabi Silent Fire Alarm Alerts the Deaf with the Power of Scent". InvestorSpot. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  22. "Basic Report: 27064, Wasabi". Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  23. "(title in Japanese)" [Wasabi (Production)] (xls) (in Japanese). Portal Site of Official Statistics of Japan. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  24. Kim Gittleson (18 September 2014). "Wasabi: Why invest in 'the hardest plant to grow'?". BBC News. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  25. Andoh, Elizabeth; Beisch, Leigh (2005). Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen. Ten Speed Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-58008-519-9. Retrieved 9 August 2016.

Further reading

External links

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