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Admit it, many of us have been a little too enthusiastic about the bright green condiment on our sushi platter; the results are watering eyes and scorched sinuses. Despite this, we keep coming back to wasabi to find flavor and the lingering burn. Without it, the experience of raw fish and rice is not quite the same.
In reality, the spicy green stuff we’ve been eating is not wasabi at all. Rather, almost all products labeled “wasabi” outside of Japan are a combination of horseradish, mustard, and green food coloring. Horseradish and wasabi are both rhizomes; however, horseradish grows quickly and is cheap to produce, while wasabi grows very slowly.
Wasabi plants need 18 months to two years to produce rhizomes of decent size and quality, so it’s virtually impossible to find real wasabi in the United States. Also, when fresh wasabi is grated, it loses its flavor in about 20 minutes, so its full pleasures are experienced only when it’s fresh.
Luckily for us, Half Moon Bay Wasabi Co. is located nearby, where the foggy climate is similar to its native environment in Japan. There, Jeff Roller and Tim Hall, both contractors by trade, run their wasabi farms in a cluster of greenhouses. They’ve been growing this niche market, because once chefs start using their product, they don’t turn back to the fake stuff.
Tasting real, fresh wasabi is a completely different experience. Real wasabi has a more subtle, earthy and herbal flavor. It’s much smoother, and while it has zing, it doesn’t leave a burning sensation. Experts say you need a very fine grater, like a Japanese ceramic one. Don’t peel it, but rather rub it gently in a circle until it creates a paste. Wait five minutes after grating for peak flavor, and at 20 minutes, this ephemeral plant will have lost its magic.
Use with sashimi grade seafood, on raw oysters, or make a wasabi aoli.
Tips for Using and Storing Your Wasabi
Don't peel it.
Use a ceramic grater and rub in a circle. If you don't have this, a microzester will grate it, but it may not be creamy.
Wait a few minutes after grating for compounds to activate from grating and air.
Use in under 20 minutes, as the flavor fades.
It's good for two-three weeks from the time of harvest.
Wrap each individual rhizome in a wet paper towel and refrigerate in a bowl or open plastic bag. Re-wet the paper towel every few days.
For more information on wasabi, visit The Wasabi Store.