Garden Clippings: Wasabi

Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is a plant that has been used by Japanese cooks through many centuries.

| October 2006

  • Japanese Spice Wasabi
    Japanese Spice Wasabi
    getty images / karinsasaki
  • GC-Horseradish.jpg
    CAPPER'S Photo Library

  • Japanese Spice Wasabi
  • GC-Horseradish.jpg

It seems that every time I read, watch or listen to anything about cooking, one of the ingredients mentioned is the herb wasabi. I didn't know anything about it, so, after hearing its unique name several times, I decided to research it.

Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is a plant that has been used by Japanese cooks through many centuries. It's a member of the crucifer family, which includes mustards, broccoli and cauliflower. Wasabi is prized for its fleshy root, but its leaves are also flavorful.

My research revealed that wasabi grows native next to mountain streams in Japan. It needs cool water to maintain its roots, but it also needs the shade of neighboring trees in order for it to grow well. These are conditions that won't be found in my garden in the center of the United States.

There are gardeners in the United States, however, who are growing wasabi successfully in man-made structures that keep the plants shaded and the roots cooled in a gravel-and-water bed. My first thought: It seems like more work than it's worth. Then I purchased a small bottle of canola oil mixed with grated wasabi at a gourmet food store. A smile spread across my face when I tasted it, and I decided that it would be great drizzled over grilled veggies.

It had a sweet-hot flavor that subsided quickly, but left a pleasant remnant of the flavor. In short, it tasted like horseradish.

Upon further research, I discovered that the reason I may have thought of horseradish when I tasted the oil is because both of these plants are members of the crucifer family. Being in the same plant family, the roots of these plants contain oils that provide a sharp, hot flavor.

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