Fresh wasabi – to spice or not to spice?
Have you ever wondered why wasabi is green? Wasabi is a close relative of horseradish and is actually the ‘root’ of the green leafy plant. Freshly grated wasabi produces a hot, sweet and fragrant paste, while tube wasabi paste can be bought for very cheap and lasts a long time if kept cool. This may shock you (it shocked me anyway) – but most store-bought wasabi is mostly made from a blend of horseradish, mustard flour and green colourant! I guess you never know unless you really read the fine print.
In my journeys found that you can actually buy wasabi grown here in Australia, and decided that I wanted to conduct an experiment with real and tube wasabi to reveal the truth – on the plate, are they equals?
Fresh wasabi paste can be made at home as long as you have a nice piece of the root and a special grater (a similar grated used for garlic and ginger). By grating the root, the flavour compounds that give fresh wasabi its distinguished taste start to fade away within minutes – another reason why real wasabi tastes the best when it’s just come fresh off the grater!
Wasabi is used in Japan in a variety of ways – not only as a condiment for sushi and sashimi but also for soba noodles, butter wasabi pasta, in salad dressings and even as a topping to steak! In recent years wasabi flavour products have become popular all over the world – I, myself am quite partial to wasabi peanuts.
Anyway, without further adieu – on with the experiment!
I bought 30 grams of fresh Tasmanian made wasabi from Shima Wasabi for only $10 AU dollars (which comes with a free wasabi grater) – what a deal! I was really impressed with Shima Wasabi as they also sell other parts of the plant for creative chefs to experiment with, such as the leaves and the stalks as well as other original products like wasabi salt, and their own 100% wasabi paste.
Here you can see a video of us trying to grate it – which took a while to be able to do properly as it should be done in a circular motion (not up and down like cheese). The grating process can tend to get a little messy because the grater is so small. I also discovered that freshly grated wasabi can burn if it gets on your skin! This happened when some got onto the back of my hand.
For the tube wasabi, we bought a little tube of House Foods wasabi paste, which was indeed made with horseradish (thus its cute subtitle: wasabi type horseradish paste), but the House Foods brand did include wasabi powder towards the end of its ingredients list.
Comparing the colours, the fresh wasabi is a very pale yellow-green in comparison to the tube wasabi which has a rich green colour (thanks to the green colourant). To compare the flavours of wasabi I bought some sliced sashimi salmon to keep it sweet and simple.
If we were judging on the appearance of the wasabi, I’m sure most people would choose the tube wasabi as its colour is more appealing, however, their textures and flavours were surprisingly different.
As a result of tasting both, they both were spicy and tasted good! However, I found that the fresh wasabi accentuated the taste of the salmon more than tube wasabi. The fresh wasabi was spicy but had an airy aroma of spice and if you didn’t use too much you could almost altogether avoid the pungent punch of spicy-ness that tube wasabi gives. In fresh wasabi, the spice can be felt right away, while tube wasabi sort of creeps up on you and slaps you in the face. As for texture, the tube wasabi was sticky and thick, while the freshly grated wasabi was fluffy and light. I kept some of the offcuts of the wasabi root and tried it un grated. It was crunchy and delicious, very tempting to buy again and make some pickles with!
I also made some salmon sushi to see how the wasabi tasted in the presence of a third ingredient (rice), and although once again although they both tasted good, the real wasabi gave the overall palette just a little it more of a delicate flavour.
The result of the experiment – both fresh and tube wasabi are good! If you can afford the luxury of trying both at home, I would recommend. However, if you are in a hurry and can’t be bothered to grate your own wasabi paste, you can always buy it pre-made in the store. Some shops do sell real wasabi paste (not wasabi type horseradish paste), but just be sure you read the label to make sure you are getting the real deal. You can also check Shima Wasabi’s product range if you want to try something made locally.