Wasabi is a lie
Only recently did I realize that the wasabi (わさび) I had all my life was a lie. Most wasabi served in restaurants are not from the wasabi plant, but simulated wasabi made from mustard and horseradish. You can see this by looking at the main ingredients of popular “wasabi” products.
I realized after watching a BBC segment on growing wasabi in the US. The Canadian agricultural researcher in the story spent years developing a cultivation method for growing the wasabi plant and is licensing his technique to farmers. Real wasabi could fetch up to $308/kg, according to this story. Here’s another story that shows Japanese farmers don’t have it easy either:
While travelling in Kyoto, I was extremely excited to see real wasabi sold at Nishiki Market. The prices I saw make me suspicious of the claims in the BBC article about wasabi plants fetching $308/kg though.
Next time you order sushi or sashimi at a restaurant, look over to the sushi bar to see if they have a real wasabi plant on the counter that they grind for you fresh.
Little known uses of wasabi
The leaves of wasabi are edible, and we were served some as a side dish at a tonkatsu place in Karuizawa. They’re like regular greens, but with a slight kick of wasabi flavor.
Finally, an interesting wasabi themed story cropped up while we were travelling in Japan. A sushi chain was caught overdosing foreigners with an absurd amount of wasabi in their sushi, the TV coverage showed photos of how huge the dollop of wasabi was.
I bet they were using fake wasabi.