Hot and Healthy Wasabi
by author Gina H. Mohammed, PhD


Wasabi, also known as Japanese horseradish, is a pungently flavored condiment used in many Japanese dishes–especially raw fish (sushi and sashimi) and noodle (soba) dishes. Served up as a little green mound of condiment, wasabi is mixed into soy sauce as a dip for the fish, or is mixed directly into a bowl of noodles–with the amount of wasabi determined only by the diner’s “heat” tolerance.

This delectable spice is prepared from the wasabi plant, Wasabia japonica (also known as Eutrema wasabi), a Japanese evergreen. It grows naturally in cool mountain river valleys, along stream beds and on river sand bars in Japan. The plant grows about 60 centimetres tall and possesses a thick underground stem, or rhizome, which is the part most frequently used in foods. The rhizome may be grated or ground for fresh use, or it (and other parts) may be prepared as a dehydrated powder for storage. It’s not surprising that wasabi is likened to horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), since they are distant relatives. Both belong to the Cruciferae family, along with cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cress and mustard.

The medicinal value of wasabi has long been acclaimed. Japanese medicinal literature first documented it during the 10th century; it has since been the subject of many modern scientific studies. Chemicals found in wasabi have been reported to possess antibacterial and antifungal properties, to retard platelet aggregation, and to protect against cancer. Researchers at New Zealand’s Lincoln University have recently reviewed an impressive body of evidence that supports wasabi’s potential as a medicinal plant and as a possible source of pharmaceuticals.

Phytochemical Power

The phytochemicals in wasabi that are particularly interesting are called isolh-iocyanates. These are volatile sulphur-containing compounds that give wasabi its distinctive flavor, as well as many of its medicinal properties.

Recent research shows that certain isothiocyanates from wasabi have potent antibacterial action against the microbes Stapkylococcus aureas and Escherichia culi. Another study found that the vapor from allyl isothiocyanate–the major type in wasabi–can combat 25 strains of yeast, bacteria and mold to varying degrees. The biocidal properties of wasabi may act as an antidote to food poisoning, a possible factor in its traditional use in raw fish dishes in Japan.

Anticoagulative effects of wasabi have also been observed. For example, essential oils prepared from the leaves, petioles, rhizomes and roots of wasabi have been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation. Oils from the root were most effective, followed by the petiole, rhizome and leaf. Although the potency of wasabi extracts was only one-tenth that of aspirin, the isothiocyanates from wasabi had an immediate effect, whereas aspirin needed 30 minutes to work.

This finding raises the prospect that wasabi isothiocyanates may be used to alleviate inflammatory conditions such as asthma or even anaphylaxis. The ability to inhibit platelet aggregation can also be important in treating heart attacks. Dr James Duke, in his book The Green Pharmacy, suggests that a spoonful of wasabi each day may relieve allergies, especially hay fever. Wasabi, like horseradish, is known to be effective in clearing the sinuses.

Wasabi isothiocyanates may be useful in preventing and fighting cancer. Animal studies have shown that wasabi powder may protect against gastrointestinal tumor formation following exposure of animals to chemical carcinogens. Other studies have found that some isothiocyanates can protect against breast, stomach and colon cancers. Scientists aren’t certain how, but it may be through activation of the powerful antioxidant glutathione, which may help to detoxify carcinogens.

The value of wasabi in cancer prevention and treatment needs further study, since very high doses of both wasabi (or isolhiocyanate) and carcinogens have been used so far. and these may not accurately portray what would happen at normal levels. Also, there is some evidence to suggest that high doses of certain isothiocyanates, which can prevent tumor initiation, may actually act as tumor promoters if the tumours have already been initated. Wasabi would have to comprise about 20 percent of the diet to provide such high doses.

Could you Grow Your Own?

Bona fide wasabi is not the easiest thing to obtain, as this plant is a rare and difficult plant to grow. Aside from its native Japan, it has been coaxed into cultivation in Taiwan. New Zealand, and parts of the United States (like Oregon), where conditions satisfy wasabi’s demand for a cool, wet climate.

The best way to grow wasabi is by water cultivation, typically in gravelly beds along streams. The beds are irrigated by the flowing water, which keeps the roots and rhizome flooded bu! well-aerated. Soil cultivation doesn’t produce a particularly good quality rhizome, and hydroponics has not been successful. Wasabi plants take two to three years to reach maturity, or longer if growing conditions are not optimal.

Are you Sure You’re Getting the Real Thing?

What about that little dollop of green stuff on your plate of sushi–are you sure it’s really wasabi? it may not be. Restaurants commonly use a substitute mixture of regular horseradish powder, mustard powder, cornstarch and artificial color. It’s cheaper than wasabi, but tastes nothing like the real thing.

If you make your own Japanese dishes and use wasabi paste from a lube, check the package to see if there’s a grade shown. Prepared wasabi from Japan comes in three grades–GTade 1 means it’s 100 percent wasabi. Grade 2 has about 25 percent wasabi. and Grade 3 has no real wasabi at all. Grade 1 is hard to find in North America.


Gina Mohammed is a plant physiologist in Sault Ste Marie, ON.

Source: alive #208, February 2000

By: Darrell Miller

The Wasabi rhizome, the underground fleshy stem of the wasabia japonica plant, is prized not only for its fiery flavour but also its effect in detoxifying the liver. However, make sure that you are getting the real McCoy since many restaurants in the USA do not use the genuine paste.

The wasabi is a plant of the cruciferous family, the same family as cabbage, broccoli, turnip, radish, horseradish and mustard, and is native to Japan and Korea and now grown on the Pacific coast of Canada. It grows best in temperate to cold climates, especially in mountainous areas where there are plenty of cold streams.

Anybody who regularly enjoys sashimi and sushi should be familiar with the wasabi rhizome, that green lump of paste lying on the side of the plate. It is hot and fiery, although not in the same way as the chilli pepper that is fiery on the tongue and in the mouth. This tends to affect the sinuses more, and leaves a sweetish taste once the initial heat has dissipated. However, it is not always what it should be.

The last comment there refers to the practise, especially in the USA, of using dyed common horseradish as wasabi paste, so be careful of that since the two are not equivalent in the health benefits they impart to your body. Although of the same family as the horseradish, and sometimes termed the Japanese horseradish, ordinary horseradish does not have the same health benefits as genuine wasabi, and does not contain the same active ingredients so do not confuse the two.

Real wasabi is normally used grated, and there are specific techniques that should be used to grate wasabi rhizomes to bring out the fullness of the flavour. True grated wasabi should be of a natural pale greenish color rather than the brighter green normally associated with sushi restaurant wasabi.

Traditionally, wasabi rhizome is used as a condiment with sushi, although their leaves can also be used in salad dressings and or as a delicacy pickled in soy sauce or sake brine. The genuine vegetable is difficult to cultivate which explains why ordinary horseradish is dyed and used in its stead, and the vast majority of non-Japanese do not know the difference because it is likely to be all they have consumed under the name of wasabi. The health benefits of the genuine article, however, are considerable greater.

So that’s what it is, but what does it do? What are the health benefits of wasabi rhizomes and why are they considered to be so good for your liver? Wasabi rhizomes contain substances that are very effective in detoxifying you liver, and that are also very strong antioxidants that provide you with good overall health benefits in their capacity to destroy the free radicals created by the pollution of modern living.

The active antioxidants in the rhizome are precursors of isothiocyanates, which are known as phytochemicals. These are chemicals that can protect or prevent diseases through its antioxidant properties. The term ‘precursor’ means that the isothiocyanates are synthesized by your body from the nutrients contained in the wasabi rhizome. Other examples of phytochemicals that you may have heard of are carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols that also possess antioxidant properties.

Other antioxidants are vitamins A and E, which is why these are used in anti-wrinkle creams, since their anti-oxidant effect helps to prevent the free radicals destroying the skin cells in the dermis and epidermis that leads to the wrinkles associated with aging. Wasabi is equally effective as an antioxidant, although it has other properties that are important to your liver.

The liver is your body’s chemical plant. That is where most of the chemical reactions take place that are essential for life. If your liver is unhealthy you can develop diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis, and a healthy liver is essential for life let alone a healthy life. Wasabi helps to detoxify and clean out your liver.

Apart from creating the wide variety of enzymes needed to process your food, and controlling the vast majority of the biochemistry of your body, your liver is also your detoxification plant that coverts toxins into biodegradable molecules that your waste disposal system can evacuate without harm. This occurs in two phases.

Phase I coverts the toxin to a form that your body can further process (the bioactive form), and Phase II breaks it down into a form that your kidneys can handle and eject it in your urine. Isothiocyanates are involved in the production of the enzymes that enable the chemical reactions of Phase II to proceed. They allow your body to cleanse itself of toxins, and without this process you would be less healthy and more prone to cancers and other undesirable conditions and diseases in your body.

It is becoming more important in this modern age with its increasing natural and synthetic pollution that your liver is working at peak efficiency. Your liver is equally as important to you as your heart and brain, and without it you cannot survive. Wasabi also contains glucosinolates that help the isothiocyanates to induce the production of Phase II enzymes, and it is general believed that eating this tuber cab help protect you against stomach, colon and breast cancers as well as help your cardiovascular system and blood clotting.

An interesting fact is how wasabi rhizome came to be traditionally served with raw fish. The isothiocyanates precursors, and the glucosinolates that wasabi also contains, apparently help to destroy the bacteria associated with raw fish, and help prevent disease and illness. It was likely found healthier to include a dollop of this green paste with your sushi than not, and so the use of common horseradish might be somewhat questionable if it has less of an effect.

Make sure, therefore, that your have the real thing, and apart from any specific health considerations associated with eating raw fish, you are best advised to take it as a supplement to help Detox your liver rather than visit sushi bars for your consumption. It will also help your wallet!

Maguro SushiSOURCE: New York Times


Published: January 25, 2008

It’s been a rough week.

The stock market has gone through more gyrations than an Elvis impersonator. The governor and the mayor announced budget plans that are based on revenue assumptions that may be as flimsy as a striking screenwriter’s bank account. The death of Heath Ledger was, of course, sad and unsettling.But nothing rattled some New Yorkers more than the news that high levels of mercury were found in tuna sushi sold in Manhattan stores and restaurants. Sushi is such a staple here these days that it’s almost as if the entire city has declared war on fish.While some New Yorkers shrugged off the mercury report, others worried about being turned into human thermometers. Given the likelihood that this is more than a local concern, it seemed worth seeking the views of the candidates who are still in the game of presidential Chutes and Ladders. They were all too busy traipsing around South Carolina and Florida to come to the phone, but their campaign staffs provided statements in their names.“Unlike other candidates, I have been saying since 2002 that we were headed down a disastrous road with our sushi policy,” Senator Barack Obama said. “But what we need now is a president who will not use this crisis just to scare up votes.”“We need a president who can get past the tired, old partisan divisions that pit one kind of fish against another,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s fine to get the mercury out of tuna. But all fish are in this together. We can’t rest until we have safe sushi of all types, all across this great land. To those who say we aim too high, we say, ‘Yes, we can.’ ”Former Senator John Edwards said that the sushi menace underlined the widening gulf between rich and poor. “We have to stand up for the millions of impoverished Americans who go to bed every night unable even to dream about tuna sushi,” he said. “This is the other America, not the fat cats plunking down $400 at places like Masa in New York.”“We need to speak up for the little guy,” Mr. Edwards said, “the guy who gets mercury poisoning and then sits for hours in a hospital emergency room because he can’t afford health insurance.”Just before saying he would drop out of the race, Representative Dennis Kucinich said that, as a vegan, he believed Americans should throw away the slice of fish (“tuna, salmon or yellowtail — they’re all the same”) and eat just the rice ball with a dash of wasabi.Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton warned against “false hopes” that the sushi menace would soon be over. She declined to pledge that, if elected, she would have all mercury out of tuna within four years. “But I can promise,” Mrs. Clinton said, “that on Day One, I will be ready for action.“Experience counts, and I’ve been eating sushi almost since that transforming day when I heard Martin Luther King speak in person.”YET former President Bill Clinton sought to tamp down talk of a crisis. “Don’t believe these fairy tales,” Mr. Clinton said. “But don’t roll the dice, either. The mercury isn’t a problem if ingested in small doses. Hillary and I are urging all you good people who love tuna maki to cut it into little pieces. Dice the roll.”On the Republican side, Senator John McCain repeated a line from just before the New Hampshire primary. “I’m too old to be scared,” he said. “My friends, we’ve been through hard times before, but we can overcome this transcendent challenge. I don’t have to tell you, my friends, about my years in Asia. I have the experience, my friends, to handle this sushi ordeal.”Former Gov. Mitt Romney blamed imported tuna. “It’s all that immigrant fish,” he said. “We’re not controlling our borders. I promise you that on my watch we will not be a sanctuary for dangerous foreign tuna.”Former Gov. Mike Huckabee urged Americans to avoid raw fish of any type, regardless of national origin. “Nowhere does the Bible mention sushi in the Garden of Eden,” he said. “Give me that old-time cuisine. If it was good enough for Adam and Eve, it’s good enough for me.”Representative Ron Paul said that New York had brought the mercury attack on itself by having “invaded foreign waters” in search of ever more tuna for insatiable diners. That brought a sharp rebuke from former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York. “I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for the attack, but not that one,” Mr. Giuliani said.Still, “this is a very, very serious problem,” he said, “and I don’t want to minimize how very, very important it is.“But trust me, Sept. 11 was a lot worse.”

How not to eat sushi…

October 22, 2007

Jan Moir
Sunday October 21, 2007
Observer Food Monthly

Anyone can tell you how to eat sushi. There are sushi bores from here to Japan who just can’t wait to explain how not to dip the rice side of your nigiri into the soy sauce and to always eat it in one bite. Only use chopsticks for sashimi. Use your fingers for sushi rolls, and on a mixed platter, always eat the rolls with the seaweed on the outside first. Never mix the wasabi into your soy sauce, you sushi-snacking peasant. In fact, you must only ever eat wasabi with sashimi, while smugly acknowledging that the bright-green fusion of chemicals on your plate, a mixture of horseradish and mustard powders laced with food dye, bears little resemblance to the subtle complexity of true wasabi, the best of which is grown in gravel stream beds under black curtains in an area to the south west of Tokyo.

Impart this information at every godforsaken opportunity. Remind all that you started eating sushi years ago, long before it became the rage. Make your date feel small by pointing out that the pickled ginger should be used as an inter-course palate cleanser, not as an accompaniment. Always eat the sashimi garnish, which will usually be a bit of green stuff and some radishy nubbins. Knock three times on the ceiling if you want more. Twice on the pipes, bing, bing, means you are choking on a lump of bigeye and require a glass of water.

On and on and on it goes, a riot of sushi rules and regulations, of customs and etiquette demanded by tradition and, yes, a certain amount of snivelling food snobbery, all to consume a simple snack of rice balls and fish. Samurai warriors never had this problem. They just tossed it down like krill and got on with perfecting their pony tails and making lush tartare of their enemies. In comparison, today’s sushi diners are faced with a barrage of dilemmas before they even sit down at the counter to crack open their disposable wooden chopsticks. Yet increasingly, the most important question they must ask themselves is not how to eat sushi, but how not to eat sushi.

What started off as a way of preserving the fish that were left high and dry in paddy fields following floods is now it is taking over the world. The problem with sushi today is not how to manoeuvre kappamaki from plate to mouth without everyone screaming with laughter at your lack of technique, but how to escape the stuff. The planet is awash with California rolls and strips of inferior salmon trapped in little coffins of rice. Sushi is in the supermarket, in shopping malls, in sandwich shops, at the airport. It is available from Mumbai to Morecambe, in Des Moines and in des res everywhere. Most notoriously, it is available at high-end restaurants where gourmands pay huge sums to be titillated by scraps of the finest seafood. At Masa in New York, which holds the distinction of being the most expensive restaurant in America, customers pay around $300 for the basic omakase menu at Masayoshi Takayama’s sushi bar.

At Umu in London, chefs in geta sandals hand-squeeze sushi and serve real wasabi to high rollers who don’t mind indulging themselves with three-figure-plus bills. Just like the eel they serve, no one gets out of Umu, or restaurants like it, without being skinned. Alive, if possible. Unagi tastes better if the chefs cut them open while the creatures are still squirming, because the taste component breaks down rapidly once death sets in. Perhaps that’s why sushi presentation is so abstract and so pretty; it disguises the bloodlust and brutal murder that goes on behind the scenes.

If you are the kind of diner who is willing to dice with mercury poisoning and scomboid side effects, then eating raw fish does clearly have health benefits. I mean, have you ever seen a dolphin with acne or depression? They all look as sleek as seals who, incidentally, are no slouches themselves if there’s any sashimi in the offing. However, anyone gorging on crunchy tuna rolls and avocado/crab combos in the great sushi middle market that is taking over the world should not be deluding themselves that what they are eating is a healthy product. It is an empty banquet of fishy Liquorice Allsorts, bullets of starchy carbs, lozenges of sugared, factory rice with a central vein of greasy, farmed fish. Did Carrie and co realise they were dicing with empty carbs when they chatted over uramaki at Manhattan’s Sushi Samba in Sex and the City? Did Lindsay Lohan realise what she was ingesting in last year’s sushi-fuelled romcom, Just My Luck? Salmon and tuna are farmed in great, sea cages to feed the global sushi market. Trapped in the deep, they grow fat through a lack of exercise and room to move. It is this very fatness – toro, the fatty tuna belly is highly prized – that gives sushi lovers the ‘melt in the mouth’ sensation that they crave. ‘Sushi makes me hum, and I only hum after sex,’ says Julian Clary, which is possibly a sushi fact too far. Meanwhile a Japanese news agency claims that Princess Diana was recently spotted alive and well in a sushi restaurant in Chigasaki where she was eating whale – a ‘delicacy denied her during her years as a princess’. Really, sushi is spooky stuff. Take my advice. Just say no. At least to sushi bores, if not to sushi itself.


Mountain Living in Western North Carolina

by Aaron Dahlstrom 

August 2007

Keepin’ it Real

What often passes for wasabi might be a little green lie

Many Americans who enjoy a little wasabi with their sushi have been fooled.  In America, the condiment that has served as a staple of Japanese cusine for centuries has become little more than horseradish and food coloring.  Typically referred to as “faux wasabi,” this imposter assaults the sinuses and burns longer than authentic wasabi.

Trus wasabi, grown from the Wasabia japonica plant, produces a much milder heat and more complex flavor according to Doug Lambrecht, owner and founder of Real Wasabi, LLC.  Lambrecht’s company grows the wasabi plant at their farm in Cullowhee, and they create products designed to introduce wasabi to the American palate.  “It’s a versatile flavor that complements a lot of things,” Lambrecht says. ” Its a rounder and fuller flavor, and the heat dissipates very quickly, leaving a sweet taste in the back of your mouth.”

Growers use every leaf and stem from the wasabi plant, but the most valued portion is known as the rhizome-the thick underground stem.  Inside the rhizome are all the rich nutrients that give the plant ist distinctive flavor.

Growing wasabi can be tricky.  Because of its love for cold, damp climates, there are few places in North America capable of growing the plant.  The best tasting plants, sawa wasabi, thrive in gravel beds flooded with pure spring water.  Lambrecht expected the mountains of Western North Carolina could provide ideal conditions for this type of cultivation, and Real Wasabi was born.  He and his business partner, Brooks Quinn, traveled to Japan in 2005 to learn the best techniques for growing the plant straight from the source.  Back home he “put some plants in the stream and they thrived,” he says.  Lambrecht and other wasabi farmers who supply his company are only a handful of wasabi growers in North America and the only growers of sawa wasabi in the states.

Certified Organic, Real Wasabi’s products include dressings, sauces, powders and wasabi flavored nuts, all of which can be used to create a variety of dishes from wasabi chicken saute’ to mashed potatoes.

Thanks, Aaron!

Nice write-up by Aaron Dahlstrom in WNC Magazine « Real Talk

fresh wasabi for sale in JapanWasabi floating about in space has been deemed newsworthy of late, but wasabi myths in cyberspace still abound and a bigger story – one of a significant cultural/culinary evolution quietly taking place right under our noses,  remains largely unreported:

Savvy chefs, scientists, foodies and consumers in-the-know are increasingly discovering that most wasabi isn’t!  The resulting groundswell of re-education is rapidly shifting popular public opinion, fast becoming a cross-cultural meme with far-reaching implications.  The redefinition of just what wasabi is and isn’t is even changing the oft-cited Wikipedia official definition, with some interesting financial, cultural, culinary and indeed global side-effects.  This may seem a lot of flap over a mere condiment, but potential health benefits, heritage, taste and the truth are all at stake – along with millions of dollars and yen. 

Although wasabi is commonly equated to “Japanese (or green) horseradish”, no such thing actually exists.  Japanese Horseradish is a marketing term made-up to exalt the common (white) horseradish used in inexpensive imitation “wasabi” concoctions along with mustard and food coloring.  Wasabi is not a horseradish of a different color and sadly, fake or “faux” wasabi rarely contains any authentic wasabi at all.

The taste of genuine wasabi is not burning or acrid, but a warm, tolerable explosion that quickly fades to a slightly sweet, lingering finish (if this sounds a bit like high-brow wine-speak, one can only say: complex flavors tend to lead down that path). Real wasabi does not give you the same lasting assult of sinus-clearing fire as horseradish.  Rather, a pleasant but moderate and short-lived rush is quickly followed by nuanced layers of memorable notes and a unique sweetness on the back of the tongue.  This is a hard-to grow princely rhizome, not a common horseradish root. That’s why it earns the big bucks.

Wasabi and horseradish, both members of the Brassicaceae family, share some pungent qualities, but Wasabia japonica(wasabi) is a separate genus with its own species and cultivars, quite distinct from Armoracia rusticana (horseradish) in commercial value, growth habit, chemistry and taste.  The real deal takes much longer and is much harder to grow than horseradish and, if found, typically costs ten to twenty times more than its weedy cousin. Wasabia japonica has grown wild for millennium in misty mountain stream beds; but its cultivation in Japan dates to the tenth century. It is tricky to cultivate, requiring cool, damp conditions— it likes cold, pristine water with just the right balance of minerals.  The Japanese have long cherished and revered wasabi as a condiment with noodles, sushi and especially sashimi.

In the past decade the Japanese culture, especially foods, have become all the rage in America, to the point of attaining “flavored nation” status.  Chefs and foodies are seeking out authentic Japanese ingredients and none fits the bill more that wasabi.  If you can even find it, expect to pay between $70 and $100 per pound (at seven to ten roots per pound, that’s $8 to $10 for one root); One American purveyor, Real Wasabi, LLC, based in Hilton Head Island, S.C., will even provide fresh rhizomes via FedEx overnight. To have authentic fresh, Sawa Wasabi (water grown) delivered straight to your door, simply click here.

Note:  Parts of this article are derived, with permission, from copyrighted material posted at .


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