The Wasabi plant (Wasabia japonica), is a plant that you can find growing in cooler climates with higher humidity in summertime. It does not tolerate direct sunlight, so grow under shade cloth or under existing shade trees. It does well beneath a natural forest canopy.
Generally, Wasabi is grown in northern Japan, but also grows in North America particularly in the mountainous areas such as along the Orgegon coast and parts of North Carolina and Tenessee. Some success has been achieved by growers using greenhouses or hydroponic techniques.
The plants are a slow growing perennial with a thick root and long leaves. The plants can take as much as three years to grow fully, and if conditions were right, a robust root and top growth will be seen. After this period, the concentration of the plant's energy will begin to produce the best flavors.
The rhizomes on the plant are where the most flavor comes from. That's because the nodules are what the plant draws its nutrition from when growing. The rhizomes are similar in appearance to a brussel sprout stalk after the sprouts are removed.
Noted health benefits of Wasabi include prevention and treatment of:
- Oral hygiene and infections
- Cancer cells
- Heart attack
The flavor from Wasabi is similar to American horseradish. It is very hot and will produce a lot of heat in the flavor of your meals.
The Wasabi root is very finicky about how it's treated and processed for food. The root of the plant is tough and must be finely ground before use. The roots are sold in stores whole as well as ground and made into a ready to use paste.
You can make the paste yourself, mix the ground Wasabi root, (about 1 heaping teaspoon) to one teaspoon of cold, clean water. Cover the bowl you mixed it in and let it sit in refrigerator for at least five minutes. The longer it's in the refrigerator, the hotter it gets.
Instead of refrigerator the paste after you make it, you can put the paste in a bowl, cover, and invert the bowl. Leave for 10 to 30 minutes. Some say the flavor is much more concentrated and probably has to do with protecting it from oxidization.
Wasabi paste should only be served fresh, shortly after you make it. Don't let it sit for more than 15 minutes in the refrigerator or else the heat and flavor will fade away and your paste will be very bland. There is a chemical process involved that causes this.
The paste should be the consistency of a slightly dry, not soupy, paste. It doesn't store well, but you can get about a day out of it if you mix in a little olive oil (a small amount) before putting it in the refrigerator.
Turning the root into powder is a process that is complicated because Wasabi has a chemical makeup that is delicate, unbalancing this will mean disaster when trying to dry it out.
It must be handled and treated certain ways when drying. It is best to use freeze-dry methods to dry the root before grinding. Don't ever let it sit in the sun to dry or the chemicals will react wrong.
You can purchase Wasabi paste already made if you prefer, but be sure to look for organic made with only 100% real Wasabi. Authentic paste is wonderful served as a side condiment to sashimi or sushi, or any recipe where you're looking for an exciting kick to sauces or spreads.
The leaves of Wasabi can also be eaten. You can put them on salads directly or pickle them overnight in a salt and vinegar based brine. Or try boiling them with soy sauce for additional flavor. You can batter and deep-fry the leaves into chips as well.
Wasabi is mostly served with sushi or sashimi and some soy sauce. However, there are many wonderful Wasabi recipes out there both to serve the paste with and to use the powder in your cooking, from coated, seared salmon or chicken, to fresh soups and stir fried veggies.
Not only is Wasabi very tasty, it's very good for you. It's one of those wonderful plants that offer flavor and excellent nutrition that if successfully grown will add to your list of great plants you can harvest for good bounty in your backyard garden.