Wasabi packs a punch that brings tears to the eyes and that distinct tingling feeling to the nose. It is also Japan’s most popular condiment. In the mustard family and related to horseradish, wasabi has a long and interesting history in Japanese food culture. It is now becoming increasingly popular around the world in both authentic Japanese food recipes, including sushi, and as a healthy food ingredient in fusion and other modern styles of cooking. Recent studies do show it to be as powerful in health enhancing properties as it is in the flavor department. So we should all be using a bit more of it!
Wasabi History: An Ancient Condiment
Wasabi grows wild along streams and river banks in the mountainous regions of Japan to this day. Nobody is completely sure how long this spicy root has been a part of local cuisine. But according to the Tokyo Foundation, archaeological evidence shows that wasabi had found its way into the dinner plate by at least the Jomon Period (14,000 BC to 400 BC). This shows that this pungent spice was already present in the earliest period of ancient Japanese civilization.
Later, wasabi became a heavily cultivated crop across the Japanese island especially when the popularity of sushi gained national momentum. Originally made by fermenting the fish in rice, sushi has a long history in Japan as well, but when it was discovered that eating wasabi with raw fish not only improved the taste and smell but cut down on the risk of getting sick from it a marriage made in heaven was born. By the mid 19th century, raw fish was more prominent than fermented fish for sushi. It was the mighty anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant power of wasabi that made this possible.
A Superfood for Your Table
With the latest developments in lab testing, science has now confirmed that wasabi is indeed a super healthy food. According to health food guru Dr. Mercola, wasabi not only is high in important nutrients like calcium and vitamin C but it also has specific medicinal properties that make it potentially therapeutic including anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet (blood clotting) and even ant-cancer.
Much of the reason for this potent medicinal activity comes from that kick that makes the root sought after in the first place; a pungent chemical known as 6-Methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate. Similar to other sulfur like compounds found in other plants in the mustard family, but stronger, this natural pharmaceutical has been found to be able to suppress the growth of everything from breast cancer to melanoma cells in scientific studies!
The Future of Wasabi: A Spice for the World
Japanese culture and traditions have become a global culinary force. This means the mighty wasabi root is fast becoming a major condiment around the world. You can find wasabi in a ready to use paste or a pure powder that you can mix with water. It’s extremely easy to use and adds serious punch to dishes! Its uses go far beyond just sushi, as it adds something completely unique to everything from pizza to hearty stews, makes an excellent base for fish and meat sauces and has even become its own popular ice cream flavor!