The Great Wasabi Myth

Squeezing wasabi on your favourite sushi adds a flavoursome zing of unique proportions. It’s a wonderfully bizarre condiment in Japanese cuisine, which can also be found in western dressings, potato crisps, soft drinks and of course – those dried peas.

You’ll have no doubt spotted wasabi on the menus of restaurants around the country: wasabi gel, wasabi-dressed oysters, wasabi pikelets and wasabi-infused chocolate a few usual suspects. Australian chefs are increasingly exploring this intriguing ingredient in sweet and savoury dishes, much to the delight of intrepid diners.

There is no doubt the texture and fiery sweetness of the ingredient that’s also making a comeback in mainstream cooking is adaptable and losing its misleading reputation for being too hot to handle.

But do you know what you’re eating, really?

There’s real wasabi then there’s the blob of artificial vibrant green from a sachet or tube you’re often dabbing sashimi in after squirting it with fish-shaped soy sauce. Much commercial “wasabi” is actually made of horseradish and other spicy and colourful additions. Although true wasabi and horseradish come from the same family of Brassicaceae, they are separate plants not be confused.

A real wasabi plant is quite the sight to behold: the long, knobbly stem is joined to its lofty, leafy green head by thin stalks. The plant has many edible properties, but perhaps none more so than that of the body that can be grated in to a coarse paste similar to finely grated ginger.

The result is fresh and magically complex: a bold sensation of sweet, smooth and spicy that satisfies multiple senses.  Unlike the uncomfortable linger of chilli, real wasabi quickly evaporates from your palette and most definitely leaves you wanting more.

Enjoy dining out or experiment at home

Queuing for salmon aburi in the tiny entrance to Masaaki’s Sushi, a bona fide must-do in the southern Tasmanian town of Geeveston, you catch glimpses of the eatery’s namesake chef grating chunks of fresh wasabi on the go. It’s added to plates of Masaaki’s masterfully crafted Japanese cuisine and teams convincingly with the lot.

But you needn’t be a Sushi Guru to dish up fresh and vibrant wasabi. The Tasmanian Food Co. grows this delicacy in northwest Tasmania, and puts all but a fraction of the plant to use: you’ll find wasabi powder, leaf, stalks and seasonal florals are all available at The Tasmanian Food Co.’s online store, and selected independent grocers.

And a hot tip:  If you’re going all out to experience fresh wasabi you really should equip yourself with the specialty tools. Real wasabi requires a wasabi grater to create a fine paste, grated in circular motions. Grate only as much as you need for the meal and wait that extra 3-5 minutes for the flavor to develop. Enjoy the finer culinary pleasures by pairing so with a sliver of smoked salmon, or braise with salted cultured butter over steak.

Go on, give real wasabi a go and we’re assured you’ll be saying sayonara to the imitations.