The Wasabi plant, (Eutrema japonicum), is a member of the Brassicaceae family. The pungent and spicy Wasabi condiment often served with sushi, is made from the rhizome (root-like stem) of the plant. The rhizome is grated to produce the green paste that is commonly associated with traditional Japanese cuisine.

Natural Cultivation of Wasabi

As its Latin name implies, the wasabi is grown in Japan in natural environments alongside open bodies of water. It can reach heights of 30cm, and its leaves, which are dark green and shaped like a kidney, can grow to 15cm long by 15cm wide. Growing wasabi can be challenging, as the plant has specific requirements for temperature, shade, and water quality.

Rhizome Growth: The rhizome is the underground stem of the wasabi plant that gives rise to the roots and shoots. As the new plant grows from the germinated seed, it produces a rhizome that develops into the characteristic root-like structure used to make wasabi paste.

Seeds: While the rhizome is the primary part of the wasabi plant used in culinary applications, the seeds play a vital role in the plant’s reproduction, ensuring the continuation of the species.

Other well known brassica (also called ‘crucifers’) are; cabbagebroccolimustard, horseradish and watercress.

Artificial Cultivation of Wasabi

Because the wasabi needs an ideal and naturally occurring environment in which to grow, it is a rare plant which thrives only in certain areas of Japan. In addition, the demand for natural wasabi is very high, and this has caused the Japanese to create environments where it can be artificially cultivated and also to rely on imports from China.

It’s worth noting that cultivating wasabi from seeds can be challenging, and many commercial growers prefer other propagation methods, such as dividing rhizomes or using tissue culture techniques. Growing wasabi from seeds requires specific conditions and care, and it is less commonly practised due to the complexity of the process.

Genuine wasabi is rarely found in the United States or Canada. Thus far only the state of North Carolina and the province of British Columbia has been able to recreate the ideal growing environment for wasabi.

Imitation Wasabi

Authentic wasabi is relatively rare and can be more expensive than imitation products. The difficulty in cultivating and growing wasabi contributes to its limited availability. Authentic wasabi has a unique flavor profile and active ingredients compared to imitation wasabi products.

Only a few restaurant owners in the United States have been able to obtain naturally grown wasabi. Since it is very costly for them to purchase, the price must be passed down to the customer. People in North America who love the taste of wasabi usually have to settle for a less-expensive alternative which is created by mixing horseradish and mustard for flavor and green food coloring for the visual appeal.

Wasabi Natural Ingredients

Allyl isothiocyanate is the ingredient in wasabi that is responsible for its strong odor. Wasabi’s unique taste comes from other isothiocyanate compounds which are created by reactions between cells of the rhizome, which for wasabi are on the plant’s long stem.

When the cells are burst, such as due to eating or crushing, a reaction occurs between different components within different cells in the stem. These components are normally kept separate by the cell walls, so the taste isothiocyanate compounds are not present within the plant unless damage occurs to the stem to burst the cells and allow the chemicals to mix and therefore react.

The reaction to produce the isothiocyanates is between rhizome thioglycosides (which are compounds containing glucose sugar and sulfur, also known as thiol) and water. This hydrolysis reaction is catalyzed by the enzyme myrosinase and only occurs when the enzyme is released as cells burst. The production of these isothiocyanates is therefore a defence mechanism by the plant to discourage animals from eating it.

We humans are a strange species as we actually seek out these pungent tastes!

Wasabi Health Benefits

Every part of the wasabi plant is used to promote health and well-being. Wasabi is well-known for its strong antioxidant and digestive stimulant properties and can be used to promote overall wellness, as well as the treatment of illnesses and disease symptoms.

Wasabi leaves and stems are ground into antibacterial medicines, which aid in the treatment of respiratory problems like a cough, cold or sinus pressure. The wasabi can also be used to treat diarrhoea, stimulate the appetite and remove toxins from the body.

Lots of plants have a similar defence mechanism of pungent tastes produced when cells are damaged, and many of these chemicals have health benefits to humans as they are designed to react with the creatures eating them, namely other mammals.

Below we will explore some of these health benefits of Wasabi in more detail:

Antimicrobial Properties of Wasabi

Compounds found in wasabi, such as isothiocyanates, have been shown to possess antimicrobial properties, which may help inhibit the growth of bacteria and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Anti-inflammatory Effects of Wasabi

Some research suggests that compounds in wasabi, particularly isothiocyanates, may have anti-inflammatory properties that could help reduce inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and cancer.

Wasabi Antioxidant Activity

Wasabi contains antioxidants that help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body, which can cause oxidative damage to cells and contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Wasabi for Digestive Health

Consuming moderate amounts of wasabi may promote digestive health by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes and improving gastrointestinal function. Additionally, wasabi’s antimicrobial properties may help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract.

Antibacterial Effects of Wasabi

Wasabi leaves and stems are ground into antibacterial medicines, which aid in the treatment of respiratory problems like a cough, cold or sinus pressure. The wasabi can also be used to treat diarrhoea, stimulate the appetite and remove toxins from the body.

Wasabi for Cardiovascular Health

Some research suggests that compounds in wasabi, including isothiocyanates, may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels, and improving blood vessel function. It has also recently been discovered that certain plants materials in wasabi can be given to patients to prevent the formation of blood clots.

Wasabi for Oral Health

Wasabi’s antimicrobial properties may also benefit oral health by inhibiting the growth of bacteria in the mouth and reducing the risk of dental plaque and gum disease.

The wasabi plant can be ground and added to toothpaste. Since it loses flavor and potency quickly, it is usually sold in smaller, travel sized tubes of toothpaste.

Wasabi Clears the Sinuses

Wasabi is valued not only for its distinct taste but also for its potential antimicrobial properties. The grated rhizome is typically served alongside sushi or sashimi and is known for its ability to provide a strong, sinus-clearing sensation for the treatment of clogged sinuses. This one of the most well-known use of wasabi for medical purposes.

Since the odour of the wasabi is so powerful, it takes only a few seconds of inhaling the scent for the nasal passages to clear and allow the person the ability to breathe normally again. However, if too much wasabi is inhaled, it can cause burning and pain on the inside of the nasal cavity.

Wasabi for Cancer Prevention

It is thought that some of the substances within the plant can prevent the growth of human cancer cells found in the lining of the stomach. Wasabi contains compounds like isothiocyanates that have potential anti-cancer properties. These compounds may inhibit cancer cell growth, reduce inflammation, scavenge free radicals, enhance detoxification processes and possess antimicrobial properties.

Isothiocyanates found in wasabi, such as allyl isothiocyanate (AITC), have been studied for their potential anti-cancer effects. These compounds may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells, induce apoptosis (programmed cell death), and enhance detoxification processes in the body.

While research is ongoing, consuming wasabi as part of a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods may contribute to overall health and potentially reduce the risk of cancer.

Condiments Containing Wasabi

Wasabi is known for its strong taste and hotness when used as a condiment to accompany favorite food dishes. It can be found most frequently in horseradish, mustard and chili peppers. The Japanese frequently flavor their sushi and sashimi by sprinkling it with wasabi. It is also used as a flavor enhancer with noodles, soup, rice, fish and meats that have been barbecued.

Since its spicy taste and temperature are quite intense, it is not recommended to use more than a dash of it on food, especially if someone is tasting wasabi for the first time.

Wasabi Alternative Names

Wasabi is also known as; Japanese Horseradish, Namida, Bergstockrose.

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Wasabi Notes / Side Effects

Wasabi is a flavorful condiment that can add a spicy kick to dishes, but it’s important to consume it in moderation and be mindful of potential side effects, allergies, and interactions with medications. Wasabi is generally safe for most people when consumed in moderate amounts. However, some individuals may experience side effects or allergic reactions.

Here are potential side effects and considerations related to consuming wasabi:

Allergic Reactions: Allergies to wasabi are rare but can occur, particularly in individuals with sensitivities to horseradish or mustard, as they belong to the same botanical family (Brassicaceae). Symptoms of an allergic reaction to wasabi may include itching, swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis in severe cases. If you have a known allergy to horseradish or mustard, it’s essential to avoid consuming wasabi.

Irritation: Wasabi’s strong, pungent flavor and aroma can cause irritation in sensitive individuals, particularly if consumed in large quantities or if it comes into contact with the skin or mucous membranes. Eating too much wasabi at once or applying it topically may lead to discomfort, burning sensations, or inflammation in the mouth, throat, nose, or eyes.

Gastrointestinal Upset: Consuming excessive amounts of wasabi may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some individuals, including symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, or indigestion. Wasabi’s spicy flavor can irritate the stomach lining and exacerbate symptoms of acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in susceptible individuals.

Interaction with Medications: Wasabi contains compounds that may interact with certain medications, particularly blood thinners (anticoagulants) or medications metabolized by the liver. Wasabi’s active compounds, such as isothiocyanates, may affect blood clotting or liver enzymes, potentially altering the effects or metabolism of medications. If you’re taking medications, particularly those with known interactions with cruciferous vegetables, consult with your healthcare provider before consuming wasabi.

Contamination: In some cases, wasabi products may be adulterated with artificial colors or flavorings to mimic the authentic flavor and appearance of real wasabi. Additionally, some wasabi products may contain additives, preservatives, or allergens that can cause adverse reactions in sensitive individuals. It’s essential to choose high-quality, authentic wasabi products and read ingredient labels carefully to avoid potential contaminants or allergens.

If you have any concerns or experience adverse reactions after consuming wasabi, consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

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