What Is Wasabi?
Wasabi (Wasabia japonica)—also known as Japanese horseradish—is a rhizome grated and sprinkled on food to provide a potent, mustardy punch. Wasabi is a member of the Brassica family, which includes other mustards and horseradish. The rhizome is a notoriously temperamental and expensive plant to harvest, making the authentic product very difficult to produce.
Wasabi is a pantry essential for Japanese cuisine, often served alongside dishes like sushi and sashimi. Since wasabi is challenging to grow and expensive to buy, the green “wasabi” paste that most sushi restaurants in North America serve is not authentic but rather a mixture of ingredients like horseradish, mustard flour, cornstarch, and food coloring.
You can occasionally find fresh wasabi rhizomes in specialty Asian grocery stores. Prepared wasabi paste, which comes in a skinny tube, or ground wasabi powder, is a more reliably stocked item in most grocery stores.
3 Ways to Use Wasabi
Renowned for its sinus-tingling flavor, add wasabi to dipping sauces or dissolved into dishes:
- As a condiment. Wasabi is often served alongside sushi or sashimi with soy sauce but can also be added to soups and stews like oden (Japanese fish cake stew) for a boost of heat. Fresh wasabi paste loses its potency the longer it sits, so to achieve the freshest expression of the flavor and heat, some sushi restaurants will grate it to order using a fine-metal grater.
- As a seasoning. A small amount of wasabi is often used to season fish in nigiri, applied between the fish and the rice. Add wasabi sauces, like wasabi mayonnaise, to sandwiches, nabemono (hot pot dishes), or mix it with cooked tuna as a filling for onigiri (rice balls).
- Add to salad dressing. Like yuzu kosho, wasabi can lend dimension to salad dressings. Add wasabi to rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar to make a spicy vinaigrette for Japanese salads like sunomono.
Homemade Wasabi Paste Recipe
Prep Time3 min
Total Time3 min
- 1 fresh wasabi rhizome, or 2 teaspoons of wasabi powder
- 2 teaspoons of cold water (if using wasabi powder)
- If you’re using a rhizome, clean and trim off any bumps. Using a fine grater, grate the preferred amount into a small bowl; it will resemble freshly grated ginger. Store the unused root in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
- If you’re using wasabi powder, combine 2 teaspoons of powder with 2 teaspoons of cold water, and mix to form a paste. Adjust the consistency of the paste with more or less water to preference.
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