What’s up with Wasabi?

I have to warn you in advance that today’s blog reads something like

Mary’s Magical Mystery Search for Wasabi.

When I was writing last week’s horseradish post, I was searching high and low for bottled horseradish that didn’t have metabisulfite. Adding sulfites to my food would more or less cancel out the health benefit of the new food because sulfites are known for aggravating allergies and asthma.

Eventually I found Boars Head Pub Style Horseradish and I am now happily adding it to almost every meal because I’ve discovered I adore its pungent flavor. It makes a surprisingly good substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches.

Before I found the Boars Head though, I discovered wasabi powder. I’ve heard of wasabi for years but always in connection to sushi so I had no idea it was connected to horseradish. (See, that’s one of the things I love about writing this blog – all this discovery!)

So back to wasabi.


A Japanese plant (Eutrema wasabi) of the cabbage family with a thick green root that tastes like strong horseradish and is used in cooking.


Health benefits:

Since the point of this blog is healthy eating, I Googled health benefits of Wasabi.  Here’s what I found. Health Benefits of Wasabi:

Cancer protection

Wasabi is a rich source of chemicals known as isothiocyanates. These are the same anti-cancer chemicals found in broccoli and cabbage. These isothiocyanates appear to activate enzymes in the liver which detoxify cancer causing substances before they can do damage to the body. They also appear to interfere with other steps in the formation and metastasis of cancer cells. More importantly, they exert their anti-cancer effects without damaging normal cells.

Anti-inflammatory effects

The same isothiocyanates that give wasabi its cancer fighting capabilities also help to reduce inflammation by preventing platelet application. Researchers hope that wasabi may be used in the future to fight inflammation associated with such diseases as arthritis, asthma, and allergic reactions. More research is needed in this area.

Reduction in heart disease and stroke risk

Because wasabi inhibits platelet aggregation, it’s thought that it may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing abnormal clot formation.

Anti-bacterial effects

Not only does wasabi appear to prevent inflammation, growth of tumors, and abnormal platelet clumping, it also has anti-bacterial properties. One study demonstrated its ability to stop the growth of certain strains of bacteria that cause food poisoning. So convincing is the evidence that companies have already started making wasabi based antibacterial hand washes. It’s also thought that wasabi can kill the bacteria that cause dental caries.

So that green sauce they serve with Sushi can do all of that for you?

Hmmm, not so fast apparently.

This disclaimer was also on that site:

One word of caution, much of the “wasabi” served at sushi bars and Japanese steakhouses is made of mustard, horseradish, and food coloring, with no wasabi added at all. Because the wasabi plant is difficult to grow, genuine wasabi is expensive.

Well rats! I headed to the cupboard to check the ingredients on the powdered “wasabi” I’d bought, and sure enough – powdered horseradish, mustard, food coloring.

If you read last week’s blog, you know that horseradish has plenty of similar health benefits so this isn’t as much of a fraud as it sounds, but it did mean I had to go search out genuine wasabi.

As you can read here, that is a difficult task. All About Real Fresh Wasabi. (Really interesting article.)

It turns out that real wasabi is so rare that the growing locations are kept secret!

No wonder. According to this site –  Much Ado About Fooding – “Wasabi is actually quite expensive even in Japan due to how difficult cultivating it is ($70-$100 per pound for a plant that takes about 2 years to grow)”

So my next question for Google was if this fake wasabi actually has any health benefits. After all, it is made of horseradish.

Turns out there is a reason it’s often served with sushi – even fake wasabi might have some antibacterial properties that ward off food poisoning!

As I suspected, fake wasabi has pretty much the same health benefits you’d get from eating plain old American horseradish.

If you’re curious enough to want to try real wasabi, you can order it online from a company called Pacific Coast Wasabi Ltd. For $70 you can have 1/2 a pound!

I think I’ll stick with my horseradish for now.

SO what do you think? Have you ever had real wasabi? Or did you just think that’s what you were eating?






2 responses to “What’s up with Wasabi?”

  1. Wow! I’m not sure now if I’ve ever had real wasabi. I’ve had what I thought was wasabi at Asian and Japanese restaurants, but it’s quite possible that it was really horesradish. That’s a fun fact to know. Thanks for all the tips on wasabi.

  2. Ian Branski says:

    Great blog! Sorry to get off subject, but since Nashville is getting a lot of press lately, I’d like to find a great sushi restaurant or Japanese restaurant in Nashville TN. Have you read any recent buzz? There’s a new one called Nomzilla Sushi Et Cetera, but I’ve only seen a few reviews. Here’s the address of this new Nashville Sushi Restaurant , 1201 Villa Place, Suite 101 Nashville, TN 37212 – (615) 268-1424. Thoughts? Thanks!

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