Wasabi (わさび(山葵)

Wasabi (わさび(山葵)aka Wasabia japonica or Eutrema japonica, is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. It is also called Japanese horseradish, although horseradish is a different plant which is often used as a substitute for wasabi. 

Its root is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard than that of the capsaicin in a chili pepper, producing vapours that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue. If Chrein (Euro Horseradish) is referred to as a "Jewish Dristan", Wasabi should be referred to as a complete nose job. It’s pretty strong.

The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are W. Japonica Maruma and Mazuma, but there are many others. 

Wasabi is generally sold either as a root which is 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.

In some restaurants, the paste is prepared when the customer orders, and is made using a grater to grate the root; once the paste is prepared, it loses flavour in 15 minutes if left uncovered.  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 roots.

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.


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, but the ingredients do not actually include wasabi plant. Although the taste is similar between wasabi and horseradish, wasabi is green and hotter. In Japan, horseradish is referred to as seiyō wasabi   [ 西洋わさび?, “Western wasabi”].  In the United States, true wasabi is generally found only at specialty grocers and high-end restaurants.