Everyone who loves sushi is undoubtedly familiar with the small blob of green paste that garnishes the sushi plate. Wasabi, the hot Japanese horseradish, is an ideal condiment for sushi and sashimi. But have you ever heard of hon wasabi? If not, you are certainly missing out on a real authentic treat. Hon wasabi is the genuine Japanese wasabi. The wasabi you find in the United States is often a fake, Western version of the real thing. One of the main reasons for this is the price — real wasabi is expensive.
Restaurant owners in America discovered this pretty quickly and realized they need to develop a suitable alternative. And thus, we now have a blend of horseradish and green food coloring, with perhaps a few other ingredients thrown in depending where you go. It isn’t clear when this fake wasabi was first invented, but nowadays, nearly 95% of America’s restaurants offer the Western version of wasabi.
Differences Between Hon Wasabi and Western Wasabi
Real wasabi is made from the root of a perennial plant similar to watercress. It has been cultivated in Japan for thousands of years, and also in America in recent years. The roots are gathered, allowed to dry, and then ground into a powder. The powder is reconstituted into a paste when it is ready for use.
In some restaurants, the chefs will use a fresh root and grate it to serve the raw wasabi. Hon wasabi exhibits a distinctive sharp taste and a fiery heat, whether fresh and raw, or reconstituted from its powder form. The flavor is also fresher, smoother, and more herbal than Western wasabi.
Freshly grated wasabi also loses its pungent flavor pretty quickly and is meant to be consumed within 15 minutes. It is also not as harsh as the Western wasabi, which is primarily horseradish. Hon wasabi also better compliments the flavors of fish instead of overpowering it.
Commercially prepared wasabi typically comes in three grades: those made with 100% real wasabi, those with only 25% real wasabi, and those containing no actual real wasabi. It isn’t easy to find products with 100% real wasabi outside of Japan. If you want to try the real thing, you can now purchase this hon wasabi, made from high-quality wasabi and exhibiting a vibrant, authentic flavor.
25% and 0% of wasabi products are usually mixed with other ingredients such as horseradish, mustard, and cornstarch. And although it is often referred to as Japanese horseradish, real wasabi has no horseradish whatsoever. In fact, it is not even related to horseradish!
Health Benefits of Wasabi
While most people enjoy using small amounts of wasabi with their sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese fares, not many know that it can also be a superfood! Wasabi not only contains many essential vitamins and nutrients such as Vitamin C and calcium, but it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, serving to fight against food poisoning and other foodborne illnesses.
Another one of the health benefits of wasabi that is currently under study is the possibility that it aids with weight loss. However, studies on this involve wasabi leaf extract, not the root. Other potential benefits include improved bone health and decreasing the risk of diseases affecting the brain.
Additionally, studies have shown that hon wasabi also contains properties that reduce the risk of certain cancers. Even more astounding is wasabi’s ability to suppress the growth of everything from breast cancer to melanoma cells. This is due to the 6-Methylsulfinylhexyl isothiocyanate, the pungent chemical that gives the root its distinctive sharp flavor.
How to Use Hon Wasabi?
Wasabi has more versatile use than just a simple garnish for maki rolls. Of course, the popular way to use wasabi is to mix a tiny amount to make a dipping sauce for sushi, sashimi, and nigiri. You can use the dipping sauce to marinate proteins or vegetables. In addition to that, mixing some hon wasabi with a mentsuyu dipping sauce also makes an excellent sauce for cold soba (buckwheat noodles). Consider this udon noodle recipe if you’d like to try a more creative use for hon wasabi. It’s a comforting, warming soup best enjoyed in the winter and easy to make.
But hon wasabi isn’t just for Japanese dishes. You can punch up plenty of American foods and dishes too. Try it in place of spicy mustards or horseradish when marinating steaks or cooking roast beef. You can also mix a small amount of hon wasabi with mayonnaise to create a mild yet pungent salad dressing or sandwich spread.