It’s often called the horseradish of Japan, but is wasabi actually horseradish? And if it’s not, then what is it?
The Short Answer:
No, wasabi is not horseradish. They come from different plants.
The Long Answer:
The first time I ever had sushi, I looked curiously down at my plate and asked my friend what this green blob was sitting next to my Philly roll. They replied, “it’s Japanese horseradish.”
Over the years I’ve realized that this is a pretty common description for wasabi, the green colored Japanese product that opens up your sinuses and adds a refreshing kick to your sushi roll. I’ve also learned since then that this description is 100% wrong.
Both wasabi and horseradish belong to the same plant family. Other notable members of this family are radishes, broccoli, and kale. They are two completely different species, however, with almost nothing in common save for a similar family tree.
Horseradish is a common plant and a root vegetable. The horseradish that we know and love is actually the odorless root of the plant. When the root is cut or bitten into, it releases a compound that creates the powerful aroma and taste that we know as horseradish. This is actually a biological defense mechanism designed to scare away herbivores that are trying to munch on the plant.
Wasabi is not a root vegetable. We get wasabi from the stem, or rhizome, of a wasabi plant. The end result is a far more intense flavor than horseradish. This powerful plant only grows in Japan near the shores of natural cool creeks. What’s more, wasabi takes a few years in order to reach maturity. Because of that, the demand for wasabi has shot past its availability.
So how did businesses get around this? The creation of fake wasabi. With wasabi now extending beyond sushi, flavoring everything from chips to nuts, many companies have started taking horseradish, dying it green, and assuming you’ll never be able to tell the difference.
That’s because horseradish is far more readily available. This plant is easier to cultivate and reaches maturity faster than its distant cousin, wasabi. Because of that, many Americans have never tasted true wasabi rhizome. It’s often horseradish mixed with mustard oil and green food coloring to simulate wasabi.
So, while wasabi and horseradish are not the same thing, a lot of the wasabi that you’ve eaten was probably horseradish.
Have you ever tried real wasabi? How was it different from horseradish? Which do you prefer? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!