Native to Japan, but consumed all over the world, wasabi is, as most commonly referred, the Japanese horseradish. The stem from this plant is a well-known accompaniment for sushi.
While many North American sushi restaurants claim to serve real wasabi with their sushi, they actually serve a mix of horseradish, mustard and food coloring. Moreover, by using artificial dyes such as Yellow 5 they are also exposing their customers to benzidene, which is a known human carcinogen.
Did you know that only 5% of all the Japanese restaurants around the world actually use the root of Wasabia japonica (the wasabi plant)? There are ways to distinguish the “real-deal” from the “fake”, since the taste, texture and health effects of each of these foods are very different from each other.
Speaking of health benefits, a study published in the journal Advances in Pharmacological Sciences found that a major bioactive compound that is naturally found in wasabi, called 6-(Methylsulfinyl) hexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC), offers amazing health benefits.
Namely, it prevents inflammatory cytokines and other inflammation-promoting factors.
According to other studies, wasabi has antimicrobial and appetite enhancing properties. The antimicrobial properties are especially important when you consume raw fish.
A study conducted on rats showed that the active compound in wasabi was able to suppress the spread of stomach cancer.
Now, let’s move on to the tips on how to spot a real or fake wasabi.
- The real wasabi is a freshly ground root of the wasabi plant that is packed together into a small mound that is then served with your meal, meaning that it doesn’t have a paste-like texture like the fake wasabi, but rather it resembles a clump of finely ground root.
- It has a lighter color. This is due to the fact that the root of the wasabi plant is generally a lighter green than the dye used in fake wasabi that is meant to mimic it.
- Real wasabi needs to be served fresh, as it looses its flavor and intensity within the first 15 minutes of it being grated. Some restaurants that serve real wasabi will tuck it in between food to retain its freshness in between the time it is prepared in served. Also note that even fresh wasabi is not as strong as fake wasabi. If you feel a tingling-in-the-nose feeling, then you’re eating a fake wasabi.
- The best way to get a genuine wasabi is by going to a very high-end Japanese restaurants or specialty grocery stores. This is due to the fact that, outside of Japan, wasabi is very hard to cultivate, making it very expensive. It also means that the all-you-can eat sushi restaurants can’t really afford real wasabi, so they go for the fake one. So, basically, the expensive wasabi is the real deal.